County budget reduced for 2009

OKANOGAN – The county commissioners passed the 2009 budget, reduced by just over $300,000 from the 2008 budget, on Monday, Dec. 22 2008.

The new budget, which totals $20,346,392, was passed on a line-item basis rather than a base-line budget.

“I feel really good about the budget we were able to pass,” County Commissioner Mary Lou Peterson said. “We passed it at the line-item so that each department understands they can’t go over the line-item budgets.”

The sheriff’s department is one which is facing a large budget cutback. According to the Okanogan County 2008 Final Budget, last year the sheriff’s department received $3,654,225 while this year they are budgeted for $3,521,657.

“It’s going to be a tough budget this year but we didn’t lose any bodies,” Sheriff Frank Rogers said. “We’re just going to have to watch our spending.”

Rogers added that the hardest part about their budget is that they can’t control how many emergency calls the department will receive or what types of calls they will receive.

“I think we’ll need to look at every call and the lower priority calls like animal control will just have to wait,” he said.

Peterson said the budget was lowered without anyone losing their jobs, but that a hiring freeze has been put in effect for county employees so that no new positions can be filled. However, she added that if someone were to quit or leave an existing position, that position can be filled. She also said a cost-of-living increase was possible with the new budget to help cover rising costs of insurance and other benefits.

Other departments facing lower funding than they received in 2008 are Planning and Development, which is budgeted for $1,462,647 and the Road Fund, which is facing a lowering of funding of over $1 million and will only receive $12,474,942 in 2009.

Although Peterson said every budget request that came from the departments was cut, some departments were able to be budgeted for more funding than they received in 2008. The county jail is one such department, receiving $2,795,726 for 2009, an increase of over $150,000 from 2008. The juvenile department is another which is budgeted for more in 2009 than in 2008 with $1,415,029, a little over $50,000 more than what they received in 2008.

“The budget that each department brought into the commissioners was cut but some department budget requests were larger than others, so some departments were able to receive more money than last year but still less than what they were requesting,” Peterson said. “Some of our departments, though, had their budgets cut below what they received in 2008.”

Peterson said the county is going to try to maintain all services that it is mandated to do, but that some projects have been cut.

“We’ve already exceeded our snow plow budget because of the excess snow but we’re going to try to maintain the county services,” she added. “We’ve got great employees and we’re just going to tighten our budgets. Our county is very fortunate because we’re farm people, rural people and we know how to make do with what we have.”