Franklin County commissioners gave final approval Wednesday to a $28 million 2015 budget.
Approval was delayed for about an hour while auditors crunched the numbers after Prosecutor Shawn Sant made a request for an additional attorney.
He asked that a vacant position be filled because his office has essentially lost two lawyers, with civil duties being contracted out and Deputy Prosecutor Janet Taylor, who was overseeing district court cases, busy dealing with an overhaul of the human resources department.
The new deputy prosecutor will be paid $85,038, plus benefits of $27,362, but it only added a net of $58,400 to the budget because some of the money was taken out of the prosecutor’s budget for outside professional services.
The rest of the attorney’s salary will come from money the county was planning to put in a reserve fund.
The budget also included two new corrections officers, two human resources employees and one position each in the assessor and treasurer offices.
The county also will pay for one-and-a-half positions in the sheriff’s office that were previously paid for by the Port of Pasco, which ended its contract with the county to provide security at the Tri-Cities Airport.
The sheriff’s office has a net loss of one position because the county decided not to continue paying for one of those deputy positions.
Some county employees were upset, claiming the commissioners should not cut sheriff’s department positions. But Commissioner Brad Peck said they are adding positions, just not as many as initially discussed.
“Only in Washington, D.C., did I think a cut in a proposed increase resulted in a cut,” he said. “People here are trying to play the same game.”
The overall county budget is an increase from $26.9 million in 2014. A large part of that is because the county is increasing what it pays in employee benefits to $4.7 million from $4 million. Peck said the county had to do something because it was paying to train employees only to lose them to Benton County and elsewhere after a year or two on the job.
“I believe our salary and benefits are still below our friends across the river, but, hopefully, this will slow the migration somewhat,” he said.
Commissioners also approved a 1-percent increase in the county’s property tax levy rate, the maximum allowed by the state. Peck said the increase will add $1.15 to the property tax bill on a $100,000 home, and is expected to bring in $77,249 next year.
The exact amount of the levy rate was not released.
Commissioner Rick Miller initially questioned the need for a tax increase, but later voted for it, saying he was concerned about potential inflation or an economic crash like the county had in 2009.
“There’s one thing we should not do as commissioners is underfund our budget,” he said.
Eltopia farmer Curt Didier, the only citizen to speak during a public hearing on the budget, already has seen his property tax bill go up 52 percent because of an increase in his assessed value, he said.
“The 1 percent is not a big deal, what I’m concerned about is when the assessor comes down and I get hit again,” he said.
Many residents saw large increases in their tax bills this year because of a change in state law that now requires properties to be assessed every year, Peck said.
He added that commissioners don’t control the assessments, which are handled by the county assessor’s office. Property owners can have their assessments reviewed by a county board of equalization.
“We don’t tell ‘em how to assess the value of your property,” he said.