Franklin County continues to keep pace with a regional economy lagging behind prior years but suffering less than the state and nation as a whole. Reduced 2009 tax and permit revenues produced a $2.2 million shortfall in the 2010 budget.
The Board of Commissioners unanimously declined to raise taxes to bridge that deficit and instead directed county spending cuts of approximately 9 percent overall; 11 percent in their own office budget.
County and Pasco city officials continue to work together to address the shortage of courtroom space and an overcrowded jail, both of which they share. A measure on the November ballot to increase the sales tax rate by 0.3 cents to fund criminal justice needs narrowly missed the 50 percent approval needed for passage. The measure would have funded badly needed expansion of court space and the county jail, as well as fund enhanced criminal justice operations.
While under consideration, no decision has been made regarding another attempt at the increase on the 2010 ballot. Voter appetite for a criminal justice tax increase may be significantly affected by state government budgets and tax increases. Moreover, a recent opinion from the Washington Department of Revenue indicates sales of many agricultural vehicles would be exempt from such a tax, further reducing available funds for criminal justice needs.
The county Planning Department issued 339 building permits in 2009, about 8 percent below the recent 10-year average. Of those, 63 were for single-family homes and 20 for newly placed manufactured homes in unincorporated areas of Franklin County. The only category to see an increase over the past 10-year average was site-built homes, which increased about 2 percent. The other 256 permits were for remodels, additions, and accessory structures, commercial and agricultural buildings.
Approximately 70 land use permits were issued for subdivisions, special permits, zoning amendments and variances, a decrease of about 23 percent over the 10-year average. At the same time, 693 business registrations were issued representing an 8 percent drop over the same period.
The county recently completed paving 28 miles of gravel roads throughout Franklin County. The roads were selected from the Franklin County Commissioners' Priority Array approved in 2006. The work included design engineering, permitting, right of way and bid preparation. Construction included minor widening, earthwork, grading, drainage, paving and other related work.
Work continues to relocate Highway 170 due to a 2006 landslide. The estimated completion date for that project is October.
Negotiations with landowners for the extension of Road 100 north to Dent Road are ongoing with no projected completion date at this time.
Commissioners also submitted 2010 funding requests to Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings for two additional road projects. The first is the extension of East Foster Wells Road east to the Pasco-Kahlotus Road, and creation of a public road access into the south end of the Juniper Dunes Recreation Area along the present Peterson Road, beginning at the Pasco-Kahlotus Road.
Road project completion is dependent on available funding. Recent increases in material costs, especially petroleum-based products, combined with reduced revenues from property and gas taxes will likely slow the pace of road work in 2010.
Road maintenance work will also focus on the widening and regravelling of existing roads. About 65 miles of existing roadways will be widened, contoured and graveled to uniform standards.
The TRAC center, like many businesses, was challenged by economic uncertainty in 2009. Nevertheless, participation in public, audience-based events was strong with revenues equal to or better than comparable 2008 activities. Meanwhile, revenue from private parties and business events declined, averaging nearly 20 percent below projected sales. Business projections for 2010 are promising, with early signs of improvement over 2009.
The county recently added an electronic advertising sign on Road 68 to improve awareness of TRAC events. Other efforts to improve TRAC performance include an updated website and a monthly electronic newsletter distributed to more than 1,500 area residents.
Franklin County's diverse economic base continues to hold up well in light of state and national economic woes. Regardless of future economic conditions, the perennial choice between raising taxes and trimming government to balance budgets will continue to challenge Franklin County as well as other state and local governments.