County working on options to chip away at $1.1 million deficit

Despite some media reports that Yakima County will implement a four-day work week beginning July 1, county officials are saying not so fast.

"There is nothing that has indicated we will be going to a four-day work week or when it will even be implemented," said Yakima County Human Resources Director Linda Dixon.

Yakima County District 1 Commissioner Mike Leita confirmed this, saying reports the new work week would be implemented July 1 were taken out of context.

He said the four-day work week is just one option commissioners are looking at while officials try to close a projected $1.1 million deficit in the county's $53 million general fund budget in 2010.

The county approved the 2010 budget even though there was a projected $500,000 deficit. County commissioners have that money in reserves but do not want to spend those reserves, instead the commissioners would like to find that money elsewhere in 2010.

Leita said the county likes to keep 10 percent of its general fund budget in reserves. Currently the county has $5.3 million in the reserve fund but Leita said that number fluctuates from day to day. The money in the reserve fund is used to ensure adequate cash flow management.

The projected $500,000 deficit rose to $1.1 million recently when Leita said the county was informed by the state that 60/50 funding money the county usually gets will be withdrawn.

Leita explained that the 60/50 funding is a formula based funding program that takes a comparative look at how much sales tax money counties make. Counties that are distressed are given funds to put them on more of an equal balance with counties that are not distressed.

Yakima County has received these funds since 2006 and received its highest amount in 2007, which was $1.4 million.

The last two years other counties have fallen below the threshold and although Yakima County has seen its sales tax performance fall off as well in the past two years, Leita said the county has performed better than others. Because of this, the funds the county usually receives are being withdrawn.

The county projected receiving $600,000 in 2009 but only got $400,000, a $200,000 shortfall.

The county projected $400,000 in 60/50 revenues for 2010 but were told the county wouldn't be getting any 60/50 funds. Coupled with the $200,000 shortfall last year and the $500,000 deficit already projected, the county is looking for ways to find the $1.1 million.

"We will live within our means," Leita said. "We won't ask for tax increases. We have to get control of our expenses."

Reducing the Yakima County workforce is not an option, Leita said. One option being floated is the four-day work week. Workers would work four nine-hour days for a total of 36 hours a week.

Dixon said the Yakima County Courthouse is required by state law to be open five days a week. If the 36-hour work week is implemented, Leita said most likely the courts would be open Monday through Thursday, for eight hours, and then open for four hours on Friday.

But that is just one option. Leita said the commissioners are meeting with all eight elected administrators in the county and are talking about ways to make up the $1.1 million.

He said the goal of these meetings is to not just take a sledgehammer to solve this problem.

"We might just need a pry bar, a saw and a tape measure," Leita said.

Leita said several solutions will be looked at and laid on the table. A decision, he said, will be made by July 1.


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