While every year brings new challenges for local governments, the 2015 forecast for Franklin County is indeed positive.
The budget and staffing cuts employed in 2010, the voter-approved three-tenths of 1 percent criminal justice tax in 2012, and a frugal board of commissioners have improved the county’s fiscal health while maintaining essential services. The county has worked for several years to establish responsible funding reserves, eliminating decades of past practice in shifting funds from county roads to help fund county government.
The new county jail is operational while renovation of the adjacent public safety building will be complete this spring. Both projects were funded with the criminal justice tax and improve our ability to house inmates in compliance with federal law.
Annexation in the west Pasco “doughnut hole” areas will be a focus item again in 2015. Pasco has indicated its desire to continue annexing the remaining areas of unincorporated Franklin County within the city limits. Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell and I have discussed annexation possibilities and are working on transition plans that would provide a predictable schedule for development of city utilities and other infrastructure, while giving affected residents written assurances of zoning conditions for specified lengths of time following annexation. The zoning conditions in the newly-annexed areas would be matched as closely as possible with existing county zoning to minimize changes to the residents’ present quality of life. County and city planning staffs are working together to assess the viability of this approach before any formal actions take place.
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Operations at the TRAC facility are also on the agenda for scrutiny in 2015. The board of commissioners hired Clifton Larson Allen in late 2014 to conduct an operational audit of TRAC operating processes and procedures. The effort is directed at improving operational performance and financial management as a means to reducing annual operating losses at the facility. The consultant’s report is due this month.
Implementation of the county’s new financial software, purchased in 2013, is ongoing. Representatives from all the county’s elected officials are working together to complete the installation. While taking longer than anticipated, comparisons with similar efforts in other Washington counties shows our experience is typical and on track. A more timely installation would have been possible through contractors and consultants at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. The county has opted to take the project on in-house and will hire limited expert assistance only if it’s needed.
Franklin County continues to work with Benton County and local cities to advance consolidation of the region’s 911 emergency operations centers. The county acquired a $100,000 grant from the Washington Department of Emergency Management in 2014 on behalf of the consolidation team to fund a formal consolidation plan. That work is essentially complete. The next step is for all the participating agencies to present an interlocal agreement — initially approved by representatives from each of the five participating governments — to their legislative bodies for approval. Once approved, the agreement legally establishes the combined agency, opening the door for actual consolidation activities.
Key personnel changes are also part of the county’s 2015 landscape. Newly elected Sheriff Jim Raymond and his team were in place in early January and have wasted no time tackling the ongoing challenges of county law enforcement. The sheriff has been actively engaged in helping promote consolidation of our regional 911 services.
Another key team member, County Administrator Fred Bowen, left his post at the end of February. Bowen served Franklin County in a wide range of positions for nearly 30 years. He was a central figure in developing the county’s online graphic information mapping system, restoration of the historic county courthouse and construction of the new jail and public safety building remodel. We wish him all the best as he transitions to new opportunities, and thank him for his many substantial contributions to our county.