Budget gets tentative support from Franklin County commissioners

Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldDecember 11, 2013 

Franklin County commissioners gave tentative support for the county's 2014 budget Wednesday, though some tweaks to wording are still needed.

The budget is balanced at $26.9 million, an increase of $2.5 million over the 2013 budget. But commissioners expressed concern over a fund called the "current expense cumulative reserve fund."

Commissioner Brad Peck said the name should be changed, because the term "current expense" implies that money can be transferred easily from the fund. It is intended to be used only in a fiscal emergency, and by a vote of the commissioners. The fund has only $44,388 in it, but the county plans to grow it to $1.4 million by the end of 2014.

"If we continue to call it that, it will continue to be treated as that," he said. "It's outside current expense. It's a true reserve."

County finance director Tom Westerman said staff will work on a new name.

Commissioners also took $29,000 designated for a part-time employee in the coroner's office and put it into contingency. The employee was intended to fill in for Coroner Dan Blasdel, who plans to undergo elective surgery early next year, they said. But there is still uncertainty over how much time Blasdel will miss and whether Franklin County can get assistance from other counties.

Commissioners can move the money back to the coroner position later, Peck said.

Peck also questioned a half-time position being added to the county clerk's office, though commissioners ultimately decided to leave it in the budget for $25,606. He referred to Clerk Mike Killian being deployed in 2012 with the Navy Reserves in Kuwait.

"Mr. Killian just spent a year away from his office, and we were assured before he left that there was adequate staffing to cover the workload," Peck said. "And after he got back we were assured that there weren't any issues or problems and that they were able to cover it. And now that he's back, arguably the staff count is back up to full strength and he's saying he's short ... I'm just trying to reconcile how you can go from being down one to being back to full staff, to suddenly being back to full staff and being a half short."

Killian said after the meeting he was under military orders to go to Kuwait, and he did his best to stay on top of his clerk duties using his laptop computer while deployed.

He has been asking for extra staff since 2006, he said, and questioned why Peck would equate an elected official's duties with that of clerical staff.

"It's interesting to make the assumption that I would sit there and scan files all day," said Killian, who had asked for a full-time records deputy before commissioners decided to make it part-time last month. "I don't know why these statements are being made when I'm asking for a position that's needed. It's nothing new."

The clerk's office has used Pasco High School students, as well as representatives from AARP and other organizations, to handle records, which Killian said has saved the county $300,000. But budget cuts have made it more difficult for the outside groups to provide people.

A final vote on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday.

Also Wednesday:

-- Commissioners voted to accept a bust of county namesake Benjamin Franklin, designed by Michael Salazar. Salazar previously designed a bust of Col. Franklin T. Matthias, who oversaw the Manhattan Project, the original mission of the Hanford site. That bust is on display at the Richland Public Library.

The Benjamin Franklin bust is expected to be presented to the county at the first commission meeting of 2014.

-- Approved an agreement on the short-term transition program between the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Justice Center and the state Department of Social and Health Services. The program helps juvenile offenders prepare for life in a group home.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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