Benton's budget falls $2.2M short

PROSSER -- Benton County's first attempt at creating a biennial budget for 2011-12 began $2.2 million short of the finish line on Tuesday.

Commissioners heard from the assessor, juvenile division, District and Superior courts, probation and the district attorney before telling them they shouldn't expect to get everything department managers desire.

"We have a red number. We are starting on the wrong side of the equation," said Jim Beaver, commission chairman, as he handed out spreadsheets showing why across-the-board 2 percent cuts are necessary.

Budget hearings continue this morning for the county clerk, coroner, sheriff, treasurer, auditor and Benton County Extension Office for Washington State University.

Commissioners are trying to reconcile a two-year budget that began with $110.1 million in projected revenues and nearly $112.4 million in expected expenses.

Superior Court wants to add an administrative position, increase a half-time court commissioner to full time and restore the adult drug court program that had been cut by one-third with loss of state funding.

Court administrator Pat Austin said the total cost to Benton County for the requests would be approximately $385,000. Of that, $258,000 would be for boosting the adult drug court from 30 participants to full capacity of 45. The superior court's baseline budget is $4.9 million.

Austin said the good news is the drug court program will see an increase in revenue from raising the participant cost from $900 to $2,000.

Making the court commissioner full time would mean more help for child support contempt cases and in recouping fines, fees and restitution. The cost of the commissioner would be offset by increased collections, Austin said.

District court officials also want to add $100,000 for judge pro tems, about $24,000 for a part-time clerk in the Prosser courthouse and $26,400 to raise the hourly rate for interpreter services from $40 to $60.

The district court baseline budget is $6.2 million.

Barbara Wagner's requested increase for the assessor's office would restore a part-time position to full-time, which would add about $26,500 to her baseline budget of nearly $4.4 million.

The juvenile justice division wants to add three probation counselors at a cost of $313,624; full funding of $415,620 for juvenile drug court; three more detention officers and relief staff for $385,866, and about $40,000 for added security staff in juvenile court.

Sharon Paradis, juvenile court services administrator, said in her report to commissioners that the requests would add $1.1 million, bringing the biennial budget total to $12 million.

Paradis said in the report the requested budget "will reduce serious county liabilities that have resulted from 2010 budget reductions and which supports those basic services that we are mandated to provide by statute."

Prosecutor Andy Miller's baseline budget of $8.5 million includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment as directed by the county administration, but does not reflect his request of $45,218 to pay for temporary help needed to show grant money is being spent appropriately for adult drug court.

w John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com