Still crunching budget numbers


November 26, 2020

DAYTON–The Board of County Commissioners have been meeting with the various department heads over the past month to review of proposed budget requests for 2021 in anticipation of County Auditor Anne Higgins finalization of the 2021 budget with the Commissioners.

Higgins said she is concerned about the 2021 Budget saying that “money is flowing out of the County.” She pointed out that grants are currently coming in that will not be coming in again and the County has to figure out how to sustain itself. She also indicated that the Public Health Department and County Roads are substantially grant funded.

The Commissioners and Higgins have discussed a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to salaries of 2% for all non-union employees except the Sheriff’s department which is currently contracted for 5%. She is putting the number together of the final cost of this increase to present to the Commissioners at the next meeting.

Most departments have requested salary step increases for employees. According to Higgins, any step increases given would not impact the salary schedule. She and the Commissioners are considering the requests.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has requested salary increases for his Chief Deputy and Undersheriff to be more competitive with neighboring counties. Chief Deputy Connor Ehr is leaving the County at the end of the month to take a position as a road deputy in West Richland that offers higher pay. To attract a suitable candidate for replacement, the CCSO is considering a more competitive salary. They will also express the need for additional deputy positions to be filled.

The District Court is seeking the budget to cover some needed updates and new systems such as an e-filing system. Additional funding is needed for the County Prosecutor’s Office to cover conflict cases. Judge Scott Marinella said, “There’s a lot more working parts in District Court than there is in Superior Court. We’ve got monitoring–they don’t handle that stuff in Superior Court. We’ve got to constantly look at these files and look at the individuals that are convicted in our court to make sure they’re tracking by paying their legal financial obligations, no commission of criminal offenses.”

The Commissioners and Higgins discussed potentially giving District Court, Emergency Management and the Sheriff’s Department needed portions of $612,500 that the county can allocate for needed expenditures. All three departments need added staff. They figured the Sheriff’s Department potentially could be allotted 55%, Emergency Management 35% and District Court 10%.

Commissioner Mike Talbott clarified at the most recent budget hearing on November 23, “Don’t expect anything, even a COLA until we are on budget,” said Talbott. “We are just getting your information and why you want it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be in the budget. There was a little bit of a misunderstanding last year.” Commissioner Chuck Amerein reiterated the need to consider the numbers before allocating anything. “We have to see what the final numbers are,” said Amerein.


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