Clark County won't need to tap its reserves

Revenues $1.5M more than expected, expenses $4.5M less

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

After some austere years for Clark County, commissioners got good news Wednesday upon learning they won't need to dip into county reserves to shore up the 2011-12 general fund budget.

The original plan, to pull around $400,000 from reserves, won't come to pass because revenues are $1.5 million greater than expected and expenses are $4.5 million under budget. It means the county won't touch the reserve fund, which has only recently been restored to solid footing.

The county budget office briefed Clark County commissioners on the matter during a Wednesday morning work session. Budget office analyst Adriana Prata said the county has used reserves "since 2008, when (the budget) was at its lowest." She told them the economy was improving, albeit slowly.

The two-year budget, which ends Dec. 31, included a general fund expecting $285.2 million in expenditures and $284.8 million in revenues.

What changed over the past two years are one-time sources of additional revenue from a variety of sources, including state-level disbursement of unpaid funds, land sales and a tax amnesty program which forgave delinquent ratepayers for coming good on their bills.

The county also found savings through staffing turnover, which occurs during hiring periods when salaries and benefits aren't being paid out.

But the county didn't just stumble into this situation.

"The only way we got there was through the cuts and the tight control from years past," said budget director Jim Dickman. "This wasn't just luck."

Between the 2007-08 budget and the current budget cycle, the county has cut around $62 million. Those reductions were achieved with more than 100 layoffs, benefit cuts, pay freezes and deferred replacement of large expenditures, such as vehicles.

In 2009, during the first major cut, the county slashed its reserves in half to balance the budget. Dickman said that brought the reserve fund down to around $13 million.

The county follows a best practices model, which recommends that 60 days worth of operating funds be kept in reserves. For years, the county was under that mark.

"But we cut enough to grow that back," Dickman said, noting the county is now at recommend levels with $26 million in reserves. "It's nice to say that's now accomplished, and that our bond rating wasn't affected."

The recommended 2013-14 budget will be published for public viewing on Nov. 6. The first public hearings on the recommended budget will be Dec. 4.

"It's too early to tell what (the 2013-14 budget) will look like," Dickman said. "But the goal from the board is no further reductions. …There are some options they will have in front of them, and, hopefully, the budget will be a platform to the future for the county."

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov;erik.hidle@columbian.com.