Walla Walla County passes 2011 budget; layoffs avoided

WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla County commissioners approved a 2011 budget this week, avoiding major layoffs through a combination of spending cuts, freezes and furlough days.

"We have a 2011 budget that's been done over and over and over," commission Chairman Gregg Loney said. "My thanks to all the department heads and elected (officials) for making this budget balanced."

Loney and fellow commissioners Perry Dozier and Greg Tompkins also approved the county's tax levies for the county's general, road and emergency medical services funds. Commissioners voted for zero increases in property tax rates for the general and road funds and a 1 percent increase in the EMS levy.

Tuesday's resolutions capped weeks of negotiations with labor unions and discussions with department heads and elected officials over how to balance this year's budget. Loney said earlier this month that at the start of the budget process, officials were faced with an estimated $2.1 million gap between budget requests and projected revenues.

As a result of labor negotiations, courthouse employees agreed to take unpaid furlough days during 2011 and sheriff's deputies agreed to take a 12-month deferral on the cost-of-living increase in their pay. The union representing county Public Works Department employees also agreed to concessions on health costs to help hold down costs.

County commissioners and several other elected officials, including Sheriff-elect John Turner, Coroner-elect Richard Greenwood, Assessor-elect Debra Antes and county Auditor Karen Martin, have also voluntarily agreed to turn back part of their salaries to match employee sacrifices.

The budget approved Tuesday projects a total budget of about $76.8 million, only slightly more than the 2010 total. Expenditures are projected to total about $54.3 million, leaving an estimated fund balance of about $22.5 million.