Benton Franklin Health Board able to keep jobs intact with '12 budget

The Benton Franklin Health Board adopted a balanced budget this week that avoids layoffs and allows employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise in 2012.

The budget also resolves a question raised in November whether Benton and Franklin counties base their contributions to the district's operations on their respective populations or a straight percentage.

The issue emerged when Franklin County said it would contribute almost $30,000 less in 2012 than it did in 2011 because it calculated a pro-rated share based on population.

But Benton County commissioners who sit on the health board said they believed the counties paid the same percentage every year -- regardless of population.

The two counties ultimately agreed on shares based on population. Franklin County will contribute about $177,000, or 31 percent of the two counties' total contribution, with Benton County paying in about $397,000, or 69 percent.

Jason Zaccaria, the health district's administrator, told the Herald that figure represented almost $28,000 in contributions being reallocated from Franklin County's share to Benton County's, but that he expected the mix would change in coming year as Franklin County's population continues its rapid climb.

Although the budget as adopted is balanced, it is uncertain how shrinking state and federal budgets will affect the health district.

The $8.8 million budget relies on more than $4 million in state and federal grants, and there's more than $1 million in local government assistance from the state's motor vehicle excise tax.

Several of those sources -- including the local government assistance -- are subject to at least partial reductions in the supplemental budget proposal made in November by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Cuts could approach $1 million. It depends on the Legislature, which starts its session Jan. 9, and lawmakers must tackle an estimated a $1.5 billion budget gap.

Zaccaria said $480 million in cuts made during the Legislature's special session that ended Wednesday had little, if any, effect on the district.

The district's budget leaves $500,000 in reserves.