Wednesday, March 3, 2021
March 3, 2021

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Small-town budgets in Clark County prove resilient

Revenue losses due to pandemic not as dire as projections suggested

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

Smaller municipalities in Clark County, for the most part, have avoided the most dire predictions of revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For 2021, councils adopted budgets that are both higher and lower than last year. But the changes were not dramatic.

The largest decrease came from Camas, which adopted the county’s second-largest budget at $98.6 million. The spending plan is $14.2 million less than last year, but it’s largely due to the completion of a $17 million purchase of land north of Lacamas Lake as part of the city’s Legacy Lands program.

In the early months of the pandemic, revenue loss projections in small cities ranged from 5 percent in Battle Ground to 34 percent in La Center.

But expected hits from losses in sales tax revenue largely didn’t materialize. While local businesses remain restricted due to state guidelines, municipal coffers might have been boosted by higher volumes of online purchases and home delivery, which also allow cities to collect sales taxes.

Budgets

Total budgets for Clark County small municipalities

Camas: $98.6 million

Washougal: $58 million

Battle Ground: $53.6 million

Ridgefield: $27.4 million

Woodland (Fiscal year 2020-2021): $26.9 million

La Center: $11.17 million

Yacolt: $1.27 million

Federal and state grants, as well as CARES Act funding, were part of keeping jurisdictions’ financial situations stable. Several financial officials around the county also pointed to significant increases in housing activity as interest rates hit historic lows.

“Ridgefield benefitted from the tremendous growth in housing and was able to weather the storm,” city Finance Director Kirk Johnson said.

Battle Ground saw historic sales tax and real estate excise tax receipts, city Finance Director Meagan Lowery said.

The city also freed up money after voters approved its annexation into Clark County Fire District 3’s coverage area. The final contract with the district last year cost about $3 million.

“Where we have seen revenue shortfalls has been fines and forfeitures, motor vehicle excise tax, investment interest and the rental of the community center due to the state mandate,” Lowery said. “However, those shortfalls were not significant enough to cut services.”

As expected, the most significant revenue shortfall manifested in La Center. The city brought in $890,212 less in revenue last year than projected.

The loss is primarily due to the closure of card rooms, which account for more than one-third of the city’s tax base. Still, the financial hit is roughly $40,000 less than what was expected in March.

The city had also built $4.9 million in reserves at that point, drastically limiting necessary expense cuts.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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