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Commissioners talk Skagit County 2019 budget

November 20, 2018

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County commissioners on Monday held a public hearing on the 2019 preliminary budget ahead of its planned approval early next month.

The county is proposing about $223 million in expenses and about $201 million in revenue. The county plans to spend $22 million of its reserves on capital projects and other one-time payments to balance the budget, said County Budget and Finance Director Trisha Logue.

The proposed general fund expense budget is $59 million — 4.4 percent higher than the 2018 budget, according to county documents.

That is $5 million more than the proposed revenue budget, though Logue said she doubts the deficit will be that large once 2019 is over.

Logue said the budget accounts for a 1 percent property tax increase, which the commissioners have chosen to take in 17 of the last 18 years.

Several of the commissioners’ proposed increases relate to public safety and helping adapt to the increase in inmates brought on by the opening of the Skagit County Community Justice Center.

Logue said 70 percent of the general fund goes toward public safety.

The proposed 2019 budget accommodates the hiring of a new public defender — which would be the third in two years — four corrections deputies, a probation officer and several technology upgrades for the Justice Center, the Sheriff’s Office and Skagit 911.

“We continually don’t have enough bodies ... to staff the new facility,” commissioner Lisa Janicki said of the Justice Center.

Janicki said the county needs to increase staffing at the Public Defender’s Office to attempt to meet the state’s caseload standards.

During the public hearing, chief deputy auditor with the county, Sandy Perkins spoke on behalf of the Elections Department.

“It became painfully evident this year that we’re understaffed,” she said.

During this year’s general election, record-high turnout and an issue with ballot scanning contributed to a delay in ballot counting.

Perkins said the department needs a new ballot-scanning computer, a new employee and more space to prepare for the 2020 presidential election.

David Cunningham, county elections supervisor, also urged the commissioners to provide more funding for the department.

“I don’t want us to end of being a Broward County of Washington,” he said, referencing the Florida county’s issue this year with vote tallying.

He said it would take at least a year and a half to properly train a new employee, so the commissioners would need to act now if they wanted additional help in 2020.

The commissioners will meet Dec. 3 for another public hearing to consider passing a budget.

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