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County commissioners heard public testimony Monday regarding the 2019 budget, which aims to retain current services while investing in operating efficiency and regulatory reform.
“One of the key areas is that we have really focused leveraging technology to enhance and improve our operating efficiency to improve service to the public, and we are beginning to focus on regulatory reform and permit streamlining to support both housing affordability and to foster economic development,” County Administrator Philip Morley said.
Morley presented the budget with Central Services Director Mark McCauley to the county commissioners, and he said after hearing public testimony that commissioners could direct staff to make final changes before potentially adopting it at their next weekly business meeting Dec. 10.
The total recommended 2019 budget designates $51,732,350 in revenue and $56,112,340 in expenditures.
Morley said the estimated $4 million deficit is not necessarily predictive of what the actual revenue will be.
“Some of that is based on anticipating drawing down on fund balances within the various funds that we have,” Morley said. “Also sometimes revenues that we are hopeful for but are not certain of haven’t come in yet, so the revenue picture for those other funds oftentimes improves over the course of the year.”
One of the ways the county hopes to improve operating efficiency next year is by making room in the budget for new technological improvements, including the EnerGov permitting system, a software program that automates governmental operations in land use planning, permitting, enforcement case management and more.
The budget also sets aside money for improvements to the Global Entity Management System (GEMS), the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone system, and Laserfiche Workflow. All are intended to help the county communicate better with the public, and to ease the operating permit system.
The budget allows room for an increase in county staff positions, including a code compliance officer, an additional civil deputy prosecuting attorney, a part-time nurse for the jail, a clerk for the Courthouse Civil Deputy Office and an auditor clerk for a full-time accounting position, among others.
During the public testimony period, most speakers were in favor of adding a code enforcement officer who will work with the Department of Community Development. The new permitting software in the budget will support DCD in its tasks by assisting workflow and increasing accountability.
“You have an enormous task and nowhere near enough resources,” said Peter Newland, who lives in Quilcene and is the board president of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition. “DCD currently has 212 complaints it is not processing. DCD is short-staffed. It has no one to send out for inspections. … Please fund rigorous code enforcement resources in the 2019 budget now under consideration.”
In addition to adding staff positions, the 2019 budget also restores $55,155 in the county’s Parks and Recreation baseline budget after the department received only one-time funding for eight years in a row. That means the county will project funding Parks and Recreation in the future, instead of re-evaluating on an annual basis.
“The sense of relief in the room was palpable,” Morley said, describing the reaction when he told the Parks and Recreation department about the plans to add more permanent funding to the budget.
Parks and Recreation will be able to use the money for funding the Port Townsend Community Center, as well as operating parks.
“We are generally optimistic about the county’s direction,” Morley said, adding that despite the good outlook now, it is important to plan for future problems. “We need to plan for a new national recession. It will come. There are some signs that the national economy is beginning to slow.”
To prepare for future problems, the 2019 budget maintains a reserve of 10 percent of the general fund for cash flow and emergencies.
McCauley said the county also will pay off two major debts in 2019 and 2022, which will increase the opportunity for bonding capacity in the future. Two future projects could include helping to repair the Brinnon Community Center, which had a partial roof collapse earlier this year, and maintaining the county courthouse, which had some emergency repairs.
Those who wish to view the budget can do so at the Jefferson County website.