It’s been the litany of this far-too-long poor economy: Revenues go down, expenses go up.
That, certainly, looks to be the case thus far for the Spokane County budget.
On Tuesday, Downs Paul, budget analyst, told county commissioners that it looked like revenue from sales and property taxes could be down $705,000 for this year. The county is operating on a budget of $135 million in 2010.
Paul qualified her remarks, however, by saying that the revenue picture is “constantly changing” and that those numbers could improve throughout the year.
“It will change,” Paul said of the budget.
The commissioners discussed a way to help close the anticipated budget gap by continuing a voluntary early retirement program that was initiated last year which allowed some employees to retire early but still their medical benefits until they are able to collect Medicare.
Last year, 34 out of 260 eligible employees took advantage of the program, Paul said, and there would be 255 eligible in 2010.
Marshall Farnell, county CEO, said he wanted to be conservative about any potential costs savings with the program.
“I don’t want portray something that’s not accurate,” Farnell said. “This is a model, and sometimes models have problems with them. It’s our best guesstimate.”
The commissioners also approved Tuesday spending $62,000 for a public information campaign on the need for a new corrections facility for Spokane County. That decision came before learning later that afternoon that the top three jail sites are anticipated to cost about what expected.
According to the results of the “weighted analysis,” a downtown site would be less expensive to operate but it would be more expensive – at approximately $177.1 million – to build a vertical tower. Other project costs will put that total at over $226 million.
A campus structure at two other possible vacant sites – one located in Airway Heights, the other near the Medical Lake interchange off of Interstate 90 – would be cheaper at about $151.2 million. However, they would cost more to run each year due to the distance from courts and other downtown services -- $3.3 million a year on the horizontal sites as opposed to $1.2 million annually downtown.
Although there was no public testimony taken, the commissioners’ briefing was scheduled this week to give them – and county taxpayers – plenty of time to consider the potential costs in anticipation for a May 12 public hearing.
It’s anticipated that Spokane County will request voter approval of a bond sale in April of next year to fund expanded corrections services. Not only is the current jail, located at the courthouse campus, beyond capacity and aging, but Geiger Corrections will no longer be available for use as a minimum-security facility after 2013.
It also became clear Tuesday that Geiger, which was built during World War II, is also getting older. Ground squirrels and spiders have become a problem and pest-control companies have been hired to deal with the issue.
Sgt. Dave Reagan, spokesman for the county sheriff’s office, said that efforts will be made to have the rodents “humanely euthanized in compliance with American Veterinary Association standards.”
No such standards, however, exist when it comes to dispatching arachnids, Reagan added.