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Jail impacts county's 2006 budget Hearing set for Grandview on Nov. 16

YAKIMA - Yakima County will impose a 4 percent cut across the board in all department budgets and draw $700,000 from reserves to make ends meet in 2006.

That's according to a preliminary $60 million budget county commissioners approved on Tuesday.

All told, in 2006 county departments will lose a combined $3.7 million from their budgets, relative to 2005, between cost-cutting measures and absorbing additional costs.

The 2006 county budget approved Tuesday is preliminary, and commissioners indicated changes are likely, especially after they hear from departments already expressing frustration over the bleak budget outlook.

"At this point it's very preliminary," cautioned commissioner Mike Leita. "We're still working with the departments to see what they need."

But with a 4 percent cut across the board, Chief Financial Officer Craig Warner said some departments have held off filling vacant positions until the fiscal dust settles.

A new - though still unused - jail is the fly in the county's ointment for 2006.

Since 2002 the county has drawn funds from a capital costs budget to pay off indebtedness on the $23 million jail.

With the jail's capital fund kaput, commissioners are for the first time dipping into the county's general fund to pay down this year's installment of the debt.

The jail debt for 2006 comes to $2.1 million, plus $200,000 to "mothball" the jail while it is closed. The "mothball" amount, as Warner calls it, includes paying water, electricity and other standard expenses to maintain the jail.

The jail is out of commission due to a combination of higher than expected construction costs and department of corrections mandates that resulted in half as many beds as planned.

As a result, Warner explained, if the jail were operational - it is still awaiting an occupancy permit, he said - it would do so at a loss.

But there is hope for both the short and long term, county officials say.

Warner told commissioners on Tuesday that revenues are increasing thanks in part to new construction.

Further, the jail is expected to be operational - perhaps as early as this fall - on a trial basis according to plans by the Department of Corrections.

If all goes well, the jail will be able to generate some funds from rental proceeds.

All of which means that in future budgets the county could see some income to help defray costs of jail indebtedness on a 20-year loan which doesn't mature until 2022.

"We anticipate to be able to open the jail this year," said Commissioner Ron Gamache. Added Warner, "As (jail) beds in the state become scarcer and scarcer then our jail will hopefully be a viable option."

The public will have three opportunities to have their say in the county's 2006 budget process.

On Nov. 14 and 15, commissioners will meet at the Yakima Courthouse.

Grandview City Hall will be the site for a third budget hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m.

Commissioners anticipate final adoption of the 2006 budget on Thursday, Nov. 17.

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