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County sets budget

The public had the opportunity to give input on Wasco County’s proposed 2013-2014 budget and proposed fee increases Wednesday, but the Board of County Commissioners was faced with an empty room for both hearings.

Finance Manager Monica Morris told commissioners the county’s total budget for the coming fiscal year was $34,140,754. She said all revenues had remained relatively flat, with the exception of federal grants, which have seen a sharp decline. Operating costs, however, have continued to go up.

“The proposed budget has a larger operating cost, thus forcing the use of beginning balances to lessen the impact of revenue declines and allow for addition time for changes,” she said in the written budget message included in the board’s materials.

The budget message referenced staffing changes in three departments. Two part-time employees will lose their jobs starting July 1 as the Wasco County Commission on Children and Families is dissolved as part of the state’s restructuring of early childhood services.

A position paid for through the Weed and Pest Control Fund is no longer sustainable through the fund’s revenues.

That job will be cut as the first step in combining the operation with the Public Works department’s normal operating structure.

A temporary position will be added to the tax and assessment office to help complete the transition to a new software system.

Morris said without the help the transition could take five years to complete.

She noted that during the coming year North Central Public Health plans to complete its separation from the county which will bring some structural changes.

Morris said that personnel services cost 32 percent of the proposed budget — an increase of $88,240 from the current fiscal year.

Considering the increased payments the county will have to make to the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS), she said it would have been even more if it hadn’t been for the retirement of several employees.

“Retirement of longtime staff results in a net savings because typically the new employee is less expensive,” she wrote in the budget message.

One piece of good news Morris delivered was the end of the bonded debt payment for the Veteran’s Home.

“We have no more debt, no levy,” she said. The only debt on the county’s rolls now is its responsibility for the Crate’s Point debt for the Discovery Center.

Morris plans to bring the budget back to the commission for further review and consideration during its June 19 meeting.

Fee Hearing

The Board of County Commissioners also opened a public hearing on proposed changes to the fee schedule.

One of the main areas of consideration was increases in fees for North Central Public Health, which raised the cost of services such as restaurant inspections, immunizations, septic system permits by anywhere from 5 to 9 percent.

“This is an across the board increase. We haven’t raised our fees since 2011 and this reflects the increased cost of doing business,” said Public Health Director Teri Thalhofer.

She said despite the increases, many services such as immunizations and family planning are provided on a sliding fee scale based on ability to pay, so low-income families won’t be hit hard by the proposed increases.

In the general fees category, County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone said that the county wants to start charging the same fees for electronic copies as for hard copies of records.

“We’ve been shifting from paper copies and had no way to charge for the electronic version,” he said.

Despite saving on paper, he said, electronic copies of old records still take staff time to locate and in many cases use a scanner to create a digital version. Under the new fee schedule, electronic records will cost 25 cents per page like paper copies do in addition to research charges, which will be calculated separately. The county will also charge $15 for a compact disc containing the information.

Assessor Tim Lynn also requested that the assessor mapping fee be changed from $250 to $540 based on increased costs to the department.

A copy of the budget message and fee schedule can be reviewed in the June 5 board packet.


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