It took a bit of creativity, some strong stomachs and sharp pencils – but Spokane County commissioners, after much deliberation, approved a budget for next year on Tuesday.
The commissioners had several options before them in order to balance the 2011 $139 million general fund budget and deal with a projected shortfall that could have meant layoffs in critical law-enforcement areas. But the board opted to make use of reserve fund dollars rather than deep cuts.
The commissioners figured out a way for Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to retain nine deputies that otherwise would have lost their jobs. Nine others, however, will be lost to attrition.
The sheriff will also be able to hire back 21 positions at Spokane County Jail; 50 had been cut earlier this year. Those with the most seniority will come back first.
In order to save the positions, the commissioners – with the exception of Todd Mielke, who has argued about using “one-time money” to fund ongoing programs -- agreed to take $727,000 from the reserve fund. Ideally, the board prefers to keep a 10-percent reserve on hand. For 2011, that savings account will stand at 8.8 percent with $12.1 million left in the bank.
The commissioners made use of $936,000 in unspent funds from 2010 along with $1.5 million from the reserve for a total of $2,456,361 that will be used to add the sheriff plus support services such as the county clerk, detention, District Court, prosecutor’s office and the public defender.
The commissioners voted unanimously against using their statutory authority to raise property taxes by 1 percent in 2011. Instead, the board opted to maintain property taxes at the 2010 level – forgoing the $338,054 that could have been collected by the hike.