Yakima County to skip raises for some to close budget gap

YAKIMA -- Spending to provide public services in Yakima County will fall again in 2011, according to a preliminary budget county commissioners adopted this week.

The budget calls for spending $50.6 million in the general fund, which finances most county departments. The figure represents slightly less than a one-half percent decline from this year's budget, which now stands at $50.9 million.

Commissioners cut more than $1 million in a midyear budget reduction this year in an across-the-board 2.5 percent cut.

But commissioners concede the spending plan for 2011 is a best-case scenario and may have to be pared further when the county's revenue picture comes into clearer focus.

"We will be reviewing third quarter revenues. What they do will tell us if we need to change our revenues," said Budget Director Craig Warner.

The county has seen continuing erosion among major revenue sources with declining sales tax and investment earnings due to low interest rates.

One thing that is sure is elected officials and employees not represented by a union will not receive a base pay increase next year.

The issue caused controversy last year when commissioners approved 2.5 percent raises for elected officials in the face of layoffs of 26 people to balance the 2010 budget.

Commissioners are extending the no wage increase stance to talks with the county's labor unions on new contracts. Twelve of the 15 contracts for union-represented employees expire this year and are up for negotiation. Two contracts don't expire until the end of next year while a third contract will be open in 2011 for negotiations for wages only.

Chairman Mike Leita said during presentation of next year's budget by Warner the county is making what he called austere contract proposals to its unions.

"We are asking them to hold the line on expenses. If those costs aren't controlled, there will be (job) impacts," he said.

The county has about 1,200 employees.

It is unclear whether budget cuts proposed for next year will result in layoffs. Elected officials will determine how they pay for the reductions.

Revenues are projected to rise by about a half percent next year to $51.5 million, but the figure includes more than $437,000 the county will set aside for future election costs. The county receives state funds to help pay for elections every two years. In the past, commissioners have used the second year of state election funding to support county departments.

That practice is ending this year.

Commissioners also will funnel almost $400,000 from general revenues to repay its reserves used to meet a 2010 budget shortfall. Commissioners will repay half the amount this year and the other half next year.

Commissioners used $800,000 of reserves to balance the 2010 budget.

Warner said the reserves, pegged at 11 percent of total revenues, are needed to maintain cash flow and pay the county's bills until property tax payments are made in April and October.

While the general fund budget gets the most attention, it is just a part of overall county spending. Dedicated funds like the road fund, the criminal justice sales tax, the Department of Corrections, bond issue proceeds, bond repayment, liability insurance, and equipment replacement are separate. Those funds amount to $259.1 million next year.