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Benton officials go lean on budget

Benton County commissioners are poised to adopt a 2011-12 budget later this month that will deliver almost none of the $2.8 million in spending requests from the county's elected department bosses.

Commissioners on Tuesday said the $109 million biennial spending plan must hold the line on baseline expenses.

"We have real issues. Our future is going to be interesting for everybody," said commission Chairman Jim Beaver at a hearing Tuesday at the Prosser courthouse.

Beaver said rejecting the budget requests was necessary.

Commissioners rejected pleas from the coroner, assessor, auditor, sheriff and juvenile justice director to restore positions cut last year.

Juvenile and adult drug court programs will continue, but commissioners said they will have to stand on their own using grants and donations.

Commissioners agreed with county Administrator David Sparks' proposal to create a adult/juvenile drug court department that will serve only Benton County residents.

Sparks said the new drug court department's expenses will not be included in any future baseline budgets. Commissioner Max Benitz Jr. agreed: "As long as we can do it on a cash-forward basis."

Beaver said the drug court will have to run on its own and county managers will have to keep a close eye on expenses.

Sparks' other recommendations are:

-- Eliminating a jail work crew that picks up litter because grant funding has run out.

-- Eliminating three positions in the sheriff's budget because of loss of adequate support through the inmate benevolent fund. The sheriff can save those jobs by dipping into the corrections department budget and eliminating two correctional officers.

-- Not providing two more sheriff's patrol cars to replace those cut in last year's budget.

-- Requiring the auditor and county clerk to find money to hire an archive records clerk to help convert county documents into a digital database.

Benitz wasn't satisfied with the proposed $109 million budget, and said commissioners should begin deleting expenses.

Benitz said grants will be harder to obtain, which will jeopardize programs provided by the bicounty of health and human services and some juvenile justice programs.

"We have to keep our baseline from growing," said Benitz, insisting the county not try to backfill on lost grant funding.

Beaver and Commissioner Leo Bowman refused to go along, saying the proposed budget was good enough for a starting point.

Commissioners plan to adopt the budget Nov. 22.

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