Commissioner’s budget relies on salary donations

MONTESANO — Grays Harbor County’s budget for this year includes a 3.5 percent across-the-board cut for every department and office except one: The County Commission’s Office. The office’s budget, instead, is dependent on donations from the commissioner salaries that may or may not come.

In the final days of the budget last year, the commissioners removed a planned “contra” entry of $16,588 from their office’s $475,957 budget. Contras are placeholders for where the future cuts to an office are planned, which give the department heads or elected officials the full budget year to figure out how to deal with the mandated cut. The commissioners budgeted for $1.428 million in cuts based on the contra entries, spread across the county’s various offices and departments.

The county has a $24.3 million operating budget this year and reserves expected to be about $4.9 million by the end of the year.

Instead of detailing specific cuts, the commission office’s budget assumes that each commissioner will donate $5,530 back to the county’s general fund. The problem is that the prior board came up with that plan. And the new board, consisting of Herb Welch, Frank Gordon and Wes Cormier, are not guaranteeing they’ll go along with it.

“I think it’s something we need to talk about as a group and decide if we really want to do it,” Gordon said.

“I think I’m going to wait and see what the others want to do and if they donate, I may go along,” Cormier added. “It’s a conversation to have.”

Welch said he’s not so sure he wants to donate back to the county anymore, noting he’s been doing it for the past couple of years.

Commissioners make $76,224 and were among the few county positions this year that did not get a 2 percent salary increase.

Last year, Commissioners Terry Willis, Mike Wilson and Welch had agreed to donate a joint $11,434 back to the county. That would have meant $3,811 split three ways. However, only $6,496 of their salaries were donated back, according to the Grays Harbor Treasurer’s Office.

Willis donated $1,588 in May and didn’t cut any other checks before she left office, according to the Treasurer’s Office. Wilson donated a $1,500 check in November, but nothing else. Wilson said after he left office that he had decided to write personal “thank you” checks to his staff for their years of service to him, instead of donating anything more.

Welch donated $3,408, with regular checks every few months. But, he points out, he’s spent upwards of $5,000 on out-of-county travel and expenses for training, including accommodations and meals.

“Our office doesn’t have a training budget so that means all of us are on our own if we want to get the training necessary to do our jobs right,” Welch said.

On Dec. 10, the commissioners approved a special emergency budget to add $15,000 to make up for funds that never came in and extra expenses that were not budgeted. The budget situation could have been worse, if the commissioners hadn’t put their executive secretary on furlough when the issues were discovered, the commissioners pointed out at the time.

“This appropriation is necessary to fund additional salaries and benefits due to differences in estimates used when preparing the budget,” Budget Director Brenda Sherman wrote at the time. “The Commissioner’s Office also had a large retirement contribution to fund.”

Commissioner Wilson, weeks before he was slated to leave office, had also chosen to enroll in the county’s retirement plan. He was able to pay the interest and penalties on the plan since he was retroactively joining it to the date he became a commissioner. He also paid his own retirement contribution, but the county had to pay into it, as well, before the end of the year.