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County budget $58 million

GRANDVIEW - Yakima County Commissioners held council in Grandview Tuesday night to take public input on county funds for the 2005 budget year.

According to County Administrator Doug Cochran, the 2005 county budget of $58,266,128 balances at this time. The budget is an increase from the 2004 budget of $55,696,403.

Cochran said county officials were hoping to build the reserves by $1 million this year, but they are short. Instead, $371,433 will be placed in reserves.

"It will leave us short of the 5 percent we'd like to have in reserves, but the cuts were already pretty severe," said Cochran.

Chief Financial Officer for the county, Craig Warner, explained that the county was hoping to have 5 percent in reserves to help during the peaks and valleys during the budget year. He explained that the majority of the county's funds are received twice a year and they need to have cash on-hand to pay the monthly bills. Without cash on-hand, the county would have to borrow money to pay the bills.

Not part of the budget is the 3/10's of a cent sales tax increase for law enforcement, which was approved by voters earlier this month. Cochran said it will be several months before the county begins to see the tax money, which will be going into a special dedicated fund for law enforcement. A supplemental budget change will be made later in the year, which will allow the funds to be spent on law and justice. He explained that the county may give law enforcement an internal loan to keep people from being laid off.

The 2005 budget will eliminate 26 positions within Yakima County. Warner said that half the positions are currently vacant.

Among the positions that are being eliminated are 3-1/2 positions with the county's parks department. Two of the positions are currently vacant and one full-time position will be going to half-time. The parks director position held by Dave Veley is also being eliminated, said Warner.

He said that the county will no longer be having any outreach or future planning for parks at this time, which were part of Veley's duties. Warner said the county is hoping to be able to absorb Veley into another department.

Warner said a cut in law and justice across the board from the sheriff's office to the prosecutor's office is also being made.

The budget doesn't call for cuts in the number of sheriff's deputies, but two dispatchers will be laid off. There will also be cuts in the number of prosecuting attorneys in Yakima County, some of which were planning to retire this year.

One member of the audience, Colleen Fleming of Grandview, spoke out in favor of the county's support of 4-H. The county only reduced the budget of Cooperative Extension, which 4-H falls under, by $16,348 in 2005.

Fleming said her daughter went through the program and was able to learn about government as part of the program.

"We think 4-H is important," said Yakima County Commissioner Ron Gamache.

Retiring Commissioner Jim Lewis said that it will be important for 4-H supporters to sit down with commissioners next year and talk about some funding sources for the program.

Lewis said that while coming up with the county budget, the commissioners thought long and hard about cuts to non-essential programs, which he added there was a push to make cuts in.

He said it is frustrating to see the criminal justice system suck up all the tax dollars.

"We have to house them, delouse them, try them and defend them," said Lewis.

At $100 a day for a juvenile offender and $45 to $49 for an adult offender, much of the county budget is used in criminal justice.

Fleming said part of the problem is the growth of towns and cities.

"The cities are taking away from the county," said Fleming. "They're getting larger and larger."

She believes the cities should have to pay something to house criminals in the county jail.

Lewis said the county has asked the cities and the legislature about the financial responsibility, but hasn't found any relief because of budget crunches.

"Everybody has a budget crunch," said Fleming, who added that programs like 4-H can help keep kids out of trouble.

She added that part of the reason she and others voted for the tax increase for law enforcement was so that it will relieve some of the financial pressure and keep what is currently operating in place.

The 2005 budget will see an increase in the budget for public safety. While most areas, such as the coroner's and sheriff's office and the Department of Security saw budget reductions, the Department of Corrections budget will be increased from $17,481,150 in 2004 to $19,693,050. Also increasing is the amount of revenue expected to come from the Department of Corrections. Revenue is expected to increase about 12.1 percent, slightly less than the 12.65 percent budget increase for the corrections department.

Increases have also been budgeted for District Court, which will jump from $1,944,538 to $2,141,171, a 10 percent increase. District Court revenues, on the other hand, are anticipated to decrease by nearly 10 percent.

Also to increase is the budget for the county's planning department. The planning department budget will increase from $1,669,506 in 2004 to $1,902,616 in 2005.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget Thursday, Nov. 18, at 10 a.m. in the commissioners hearing room in Yakima.

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