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Thursday, September 21, 2023
Sept. 21, 2023

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County council approves $520 million budget for 2019

Budget is first prepared by first-year County Manager Shawn Henessee

By , Columbian political reporter

The Clark County Council approved a nearly $520 million 2019 budget at its Tuesday evening hearing.

The annual budget was the first prepared by Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee, who began in the position in July. The budget contains no broad cuts or funding reductions, which have been a feature of previous post-recession budgets. The largest fund included in the budget is the $170 million general fund, which pays most of the county’s 1,718 full-time employees.

In crafting the budget, Henessee denied requests from various county departments and offices for funding for maintenance, software upgrades, additional staff and other items. The budget is balanced with nearly $400,000 in cost-savings measures, as well as strong revenue from sales and property taxes, which have been bolstered by new construction. According to numbers presented by Henessee, new construction is expected to generate $1.6 million in property tax revenue in 2019.

But Henessee said that while the county is seeing more in tax revenue, it was also seeing a greater demand on services. He said that the county faces an ongoing structural deficit, where costs continue to outpace revenues.

“While Clark County continues to be very attractive and to attract lots of people in terms of its population that continues to put pressure on a lot of requests for county service,” said Henessee.

The budget was approved on a 4-1 vote with Republican county Councilor Eileen Quiring casting the sole dissenting vote. Quiring, the incoming council chair, said that her “no” vote was based on the budget’s inclusion of a 1 percent increase in the total tax levy to support the general fund.

The 1 percent increase is the largest increase allowed under state law and is expected to generate $632,953 in additional revenue for the county. The increase is expected to increase the property tax bill on a median-priced home in Clark County by $3.41.

Henessee said that he recommended the increase because of the increasing cost of labor and because the strong economy has also caused the cost of goods and services to rise. He also pointed out that Clark County has foregone the 1 percent increase in five of the last seven years, which has compounded to $3.2 million less for the county annually.

Quiring offered an amendment that would have removed the 1 percent increase. The county budget is required to balance under state law. Removing the revenue source would have put it out of balance. Quiring offered no further amendments for how to balance the budget. Her amendment died for lack of a second.

“I’ve spent eight months in the county campaigning, and the No. 1 complaint that I’ve heard from people is the burden of taxes,” said Quiring.

She said she couldn’t justify even a small tax increase and the county should “squeeze somewhere else.”

Republican Councilor Julie Olson shot back. Olson, who was re-elected in November, said that she, too, had been on the campaign trail and heard complaints about taxes.

She recalled taking a call from an upset taxpayer. She said she told the caller that she, too, felt burdened by taxes, but pointed out that county government has fewer means of raising revenue than state government. She said she told him it was worth $3.41 to pay for county services. She said that 80 percent of the county’s general fund goes toward public safety. She said that the county would continue to look for efficiencies and that it wasn’t “wasting money.”

“But the notion that we’re not already doing that I’m finding offensive,” said Olson.

The council also approved a 1 percent increase in its road fund. It’s expected to increase the tax bill on a median-priced home by $4.66. Quiring, again, cast the only “no” vote. She pointed out that she couldn’t support it until she saw the reduction in state property taxes that were promised as part of an education funding package passed by the Legislature last year.

Columbian political reporter