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News / Clark County News

Clark County Council OKs $546 million budget for next year

Councilors approve $26 million more than for current year

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: December 3, 2019, 6:50pm

The Clark County Council approved a $546 million budget for 2020 in a 3-2 vote at its Nov. 26 hearing.

The annual spending plan is roughly $26 million more than the one approved by councilors for 2019. It will also pay more than 1,700 county employees.

In his recommended budget presented to councilors, Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee denied 53 of 161 budget requests from various departments. Since beginning his position in July 2018, Henessee has warned of a structural deficit the county faces due largely to greater service demands, aging technology and infrastructure and rising employee salaries and benefits that outpace revenue hikes.

The budget features $600,000 in cost-saving measures.

It also includes 1 percent property tax increases, the largest allowed under state law, for the county’s general fund and road fund. The general fund increase — along with an approved increase to banking capacity — is expected to generate $1.26 million in revenue and cost owners of a $360,000 home $6.90 per year. Revenue for the road fund is expected to jump by $414,768, costing homeowners of that $360,000 home an additional $4.75 per year.

The council had decided against the general fund tax increase in five of the past eight years, and against the road fund tax increase in eight of the last 10 years. Those decisions have led to $18.5 million less for the general fund and $20.5 million less for the road fund.

Democratic county Councilor Temple Lentz and Republican Councilors Julie Olson and John Blom voted in favor of the budget.

“I think that this is, as presented, a very fiscally conservative budget and (I) really appreciate that,” Lentz said. “We are now racing to catch up, and the structural deficit is exactly that. It’s that we’re always going to be behind.”

Mainly citing opposition to the tax increases, Republican Council Chair Eileen Quiring and Republican Councilor Gary Medvigy voted against the budget. Quiring voted against the budget last year due to a similar tax increase, and Medvigy had not yet joined the council.

“As we develop in the county, that tax base should be covering our costs in a more efficient manner,” Medvigy said. “I’m against raising any additional taxes because we are so healthy right now, our economy is so healthy right now.”

Other highlights include $700,000 allocated for a Clark County Jail replacement and space needs study. Henessee said the study would include other county buildings, such as the Family Law Annex in downtown Vancouver, to avoid looking at jail space needs “in a vacuum.”

“(The jail) will continue to be the primary focus, but we also need to look at the impact on our other operations on the judicial side as well as other county operations in this area of the jail and in the downtown area,” Henessee said.

Several budget amendments were proposed and approved by the majority of councilors. The amendments include $97,000 to help support an additional Superior Court judge and staff, $100,000 in additional money for abandoned RV removal, a $200,000 mail scanner at the jail and $60,000 for an additional position to administer a senior citizen property tax relief program. The county also funded a $75,520 new appraiser position, which was in jeopardy after councilors denied a request for the senior program position in the fall supplemental budget.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter