Elected officials and department heads turned in their wish lists for the 2013 general operating budget to the Grays Harbor County commissioners last week.
Sheriff Mike Whelan requested two additional correction officers and asked that the jail superintendent position be restored. Prosecutor Stew Menefee is asking for an additional deputy prosecutor and records clerk to replace positions eliminated in previous budgets.
Meantime, the Superior Court judges are requesting the addition of two new full-time detention officer positions for the Juvenile Detention Center.
The budget requests add up to $26.2 million, which is $2.4 million more than this year’s projected $23.8 million operating budget. That means as the commissioners plan next year’s budget, they’ll have to find more revenue, dip into the county’s $3.8 million in reserves or cut the budget requests down to size.
“We have a pretty big task ahead of us,” County Commissioner Herb Welch said.
The budget requests were turned in on Aug. 31. The Daily World was unable to review all of the budget requests this week because the county’s budget office is extremely busy, according to County Commissioner Terry Willis.
Budget Director Brenda Sherman did provide a spreadsheet giving a snapshot of some of the spending requests, but specific explanations about the numbers were not included. Sherman said she’s still working on next year’s projected revenues.
Budget workshops are not scheduled until October with adoption of the budget in December.
Many department heads and elected officials did turn their requests over to The Daily World upon request.
This is the last budget request from Sheriff Whelan, who retires next month. He’s requesting $608,525 above his current level of $8.99 million.
Whelan said that the county jail can no longer be at capacity because his corrections staff has dwindled following years of budget cuts.
“We’re down to six people in uniform and, to be at capacity, in my opinion, is unsafe for the staff and unsafe for the inmates, as well,” Whelan said. “To operate at a minimum level, I need two more corrections officers. Two-thirds of my problems as sheriff arise from the county jail and the fact that we have no administrative officer there on a daily basis to make sure things are running smoothly has meant some problems for me.”
Whelan is also asking for a 5 percent wage increase for his exempt staff.
“It’s been five years since my appointed staff have had a wage increase, while unions here continued to see wage and benefit increases,” the sheriff said. “I have exempt staff that are making far less than what they could make going back to being a commissioned, union deputy.”
Whelan noted that he has personally had a wage freeze since 2007 and has sacrificed “tens of thousands of dollars in retirement, but I felt it was important if we ask employees to sacrifice that I also willingly sacrifice.”
“I know the county is doing its best to gather resources and establish some reasonable reserves and I think that’s laudable, but at same token, we cannot forget about our employees, who have not had a wage increase in five years,” Whelan said.
Assessor, auditor & clerk’s offices
Auditor Vern Spatz and Clerk Cheryl Brown also both noted that there are exempt employees all over the county that have not had wage increases.
Spatz notes that the county commissioners have crafted a “caste system,” with union employees sometimes receiving salary increases, and exempt employees appointed directly by the commissioners receiving salary increases, but a “few dozen” exempt employees all over the county receiving wage freezes for the past four or five years.
“Last year, the commissioners even budgeted 5 percent wage decreases for the elected officials,” Brown said.
To be fair, the county commissioners, themselves, have also donated thousands of dollars of their own wages back to the county.
Many of the employees that work in the county Administration Building in Montesano are also on mandated furloughs once a month, resulting in a 5 percent wage cut.
“I’m optimistic those furloughs will go away,” Spatz said. “I know I haven’t budgeted for them.”
Spatz, Brown and Treasurer Ron Strabbing all say they haven’t made any special requests in their budgets.
Spatz’s $641,388 budget request is the same as his current level. Strabbing’s $558,305 budget request actually comes in about $4,000 under his current level. Brown’s budget request came in at about $656,000, which is about $19,000 higher than her current budget.
Assessor Rick Hole’s budget request of $1.5 million is $330,992 above his current level of spending. Hole said the bulk of that increase will hopefully be filled by a state grant as his office continues moving toward an annual revaluation cycle. Hole said the extra funds will be used as the county builds the software for the new system and pays for new field equipment, as well as promotions for some of his employees to have more appraisers in his office.
The District Court judges are the only elected officials who appear to have eliminated a position in their budget request. The judges had one person leave their office and are not budgeting to replace the position. The judges are requesting for their furloughs to be eliminated.
The court’s seven staff members took a 20 percent cut in pay this year and the court closed its Aberdeen location nearly every Friday this year. The court’s two probation staff also took a 20 percent cut in pay, although District Court Judge Steven Brown cautioned that any further cuts to probation also “cuts the revenue generated by the department, resulting in little or no net gain to the county budget.”
Even by eliminating furloughs in the District Court and giving a 2.5 percent salary bump to two exempt staff in the office, the court’s $1.24 million budget request is still $27,699 less than this year’s budget.
Prosecutor Menefee is requesting an additional $157,135 beyond his $2.08 million budget this year.
“I have a responsibility, a due diligence, to ask for the staff that this office needs,” Menefee said. “You’ve got to make these requests because, later, if things go wrong, you can point to the request that you did make.”
Menefee said he’s optimistic about next year’s budget.
“I’m anticipating continuing at bare-bones minimum into the future,” Menefee said. “That being said, the situation with the court threatens to throw everything out of kilter.”
The Superior Court judges are in the midst of a lawsuit over the cuts the county commissioners made to their budgets this year. The judges’ requests for funding for next year’s budget ignores those budgets cuts altogether and asks for even more money.
The Juvenile Detention Center is requesting $1.5 million, which is about $100,000 above what’s being spent now; although it’s $350,000 from what the commissioners wanted the detention center to spend.
The Superior Court asks for $717,661, which is $31,334 more than what’s being spent now, and $85,000 higher than what the commissioners wanted the judges to spend.
Judge Dave Edwards said the judges have a responsibility to serve residents on a minimum service level.
Two new detention officers and the promotion of a probation officer to director of court services is critical for the proper operation of the detention center, the judges say.