Clark County expects to pull $6.2M from reserves

Official says spending plan anticipated need to cover expenses

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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If the financial trend seen in the first quarter of Clark County's 2013-14 budget cycle holds true, the county will pull a total of $6.2 million from its reserves to cover operating expenses — and that's exactly where the county expected to be.

After a Wednesday morning briefing to county commissioners on the state of the budget, county Budget Director Jim Dickman said the first quarter of the year came in "about what we expected" in regards to the county's $295 million general fund.

"We have a model through 2018," Dickman said. "And in 2013-14 in that model, we are using reserves."

The county uses its reserves to balance the budget when revenues come in under expenses. But the $6.2 million is still just an estimate. Last year, at the end of the 2011-12 budget cycle, the county ended up with black in its ledger as revenues rallied to beat expenditures. That allowed the county to bank the income and bolster its reserve fund to $26 million, which meets a recommended best practices model of 60 days worth of operating funds.

And while Dickman said officials won't know the final results of the budget until December 2014, the county doesn't plan to continue budgeting for withdrawals from the reserve fund.

"We can't still be doing that in 2015-16 or 2017-18," Dickman said.

To avoid that practice, county Finance Director Mark Gassaway requested commissioners give their blessing for a staff meeting to identify what priorities the county should have for future budgets.

Commissioners agreed to that plan, but asked the group return its findings before it identifies ways to reach those goals.

The Wednesday workshop is a precursor to the county's quarterly fiance hearing, which allows commissioners to take action on changes to the budget.

The commissioners are scheduled to hold that meeting April 30, but discussion at the workshop indicated they may hold off until May. The reason for the delay would be to allow the commissioners to also introduce an extension of a modified development fee holiday originally introduced by Commissioner David Madore. That modified holiday has appeared to gain support from both Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart.

Dickman said the budget office will work to present projections for how the proposed holiday will further affect the county's gap between revenues and expenses.

Also, the county still needs to calculate the loss of revenue from the commissioners' recent decision to eliminate parking fees at county parks. Projections for that move show the county will lose $325,000 in revenue each year.

Dickman said that reduction has not yet been considered in the $6.2 million projection.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov ; erik.hidle@columbian.com.