County departments search for budget savings; some projects, events may be at risk
April 30, 2020
DAYTON–With a decrease in sales tax and gasoline tax revenue due to the Stay at Home Order for Washington State, many counties are meeting to look at trimming department budgets by 5-15%. Across the state, various county commissions–Columbia County's included–are also concerned there could be less money from property taxes this year because of hardship due to COVID-19.
The first quarter taxes are due April 30 and the current amount received for Columbia County is close to previous years. Most people pay closer to the deadline, according to Treasurer Carla Rowe.
Commissioners Chuck Amerein, Mike Talbott and Ryan Rundell reported that the county cannot go into a deficit, so department budgets need to be looked at being cut where they can. Most department heads reported they can meet the desired 10-15% or more, if needed, to meet the situation.
The Sheriff's Office has been operating under constraints with the deputies working overtime, according to Sheriff Joe Helm. The department has been seeking two additional deputies. Sheriff Helm spoke of the need to avoid burnout and keep morale up and that can only happen with filling the two open positions by the end of the year.
Columbia County Public Health also indicated they felt limits in cutting the budget because they are already down to a limited staff and are critical in the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to administrator Martha Lanman, grant money is coming in and the department hopes to obtain more as funders recognize how much county public health departments are needed.
In meeting with Charles Eaton of Public Works, Eaton told commissioners that it would actually cost more to close down the boarding at the Fairgrounds and to close the marina, and suggested they remain open. Questions remain as to whether golf will reopen and if the Columbia County Fair will be held. Both bring in significant revenue, as does the booking of fairgrounds buildings for events.
Eaton reported that Public Works will not seek to fill the vacant positions at this time to save money. He also indicated that because of lack of gas-tax revenue, road projects that were scheduled will be delayed.
County Auditor Anne Higgins was present with each meeting with department heads and she will be presenting the final budget amendment.