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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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Clark County budget faces $20 million shortfall

Increasing expenses without additional tax revenue cited

By , Columbian Education Reporter

The Clark County council faces some tough choices this winter, as the county’s Budget Office projects a $20 million shortfall in its general fund over the next two years.

County budget staff estimate Clark County will take $313.2 million into its general fund while spending $327.9 million in the 2017-18 biennium. Couple that funding gap with likely requests for new expenses and the recent loss of a contract with the Vancouver Police Department for records management, and the county is looking at a 6 percent shortfall.

“Revenues are simply not keeping up with expenses,” Budget Director Adriana Prata said.

The council had a budget workshop earlier this month. Prata said that it’s unusual for the budget office to be working directly with the Clark County council this early in the year.

The Budget Office is asking departments to prepare for 10 percent cuts across the board, she said. What that ultimately means — whether it’s shrinking programs, laying off employees or other cost-saving measures — will rest with the council.

“It’s policies that have come home to roost,” said Council Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference. “Last year, we added personnel plus raises, and at the same time we’ve said no to any kind of tax increase at all.”

It’s unlikely that the council will pursue more than a 1 percent tax levy increase, Boldt said. State law only allows for 1 percent increases, but Clark County has banked its taxing ability because it hasn’t raised taxes for several years. The county could increase its tax levy by a total of 4 percent, but none of the five councilors showed interest in doing so at a recent board time meeting.

Clark County officials have described little room for cuts in each of their departments.

Presiding Superior Court Judge James Rulli expressed concerns about the potential damage cutting drug court and mental health services may have on Clark County families.

“If we eliminate the services that we provide them through our court and through the family court systems, we’re going to have very, very dire needs going forward,” he said at this month’s budget workshop.

Assessor Peter Van Nortwick, Auditor Greg Kimsey and Treasurer Doug Lasher submitted a letter critical of the council for increasing expenses without providing adequate funding. They noted that combined staffing levels in their offices have decreased by 1.9 percent in the last four years, indicating those offices “are not the cause of the budget deficit.”

“We urge you to align expenses and revenues without negatively impacting our ability to carry out our responsibilities,” the three wrote in the letter.

The Clark County Elections Office is exploring the possibility of cutting its printed voters’ guide. Doing so could save Clark County about $50,000 over the biennium.

Kimsey said there are few things the Elections Office does that are not required by state law. The local voters’ guide, a point of pride for the office, is one of them.

“When the council has reduced revenues without cutting expenses, and increased expenses without providing the revenue, this is the situation we found ourselves in,” Kimsey said.

County Manager Mark McCauley is slated to propose a budget on Nov. 1, with two more work sessions to follow, according to the county Budget Office. Budget hearings are scheduled in December.

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