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Washington County Board adopts budget preserving basic county services despite reductions, funds modernization of key systems

The balanced adopted budget closes a $10 million gap in the general fund, the third such reduced budget in as many years.
Media release

The Washington County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted the $2.1 billion total budget for fiscal year 2024-25 after a public hearing last week. For the third year running, the adopted budget addresses a shortfall in the county’s general fund, an area of the budget supported primarily by property taxes. The adopted spending plan also includes investments in the county’s strained public safety system as well as in modernization of aging internal systems and physical spaces.

The county’s budget, along with four smaller budgets for districts serving all or some of the urban unincorporated area, were adopted after the board received public input during a series of budget committee meetings this spring. The four other budgets include the Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District, Urban Road Maintenance District, North Bethany County Service District for Roads and Service District for Lighting Number 1. Answers to questions posed by budget committee members, county employees and members of the public have been posted on the county’s website.

Constrained Property Taxes
In her annual State of Our County address the same week, Board of County Commissioners Chair Kathryn Harrington marked the occasion of the budget’s adoption.

“You would think that while the county is growing, our revenues would keep pace within our state’s constrained property tax system, but they don’t,” Harrington said, citing also the impact of inflation and other cost drivers affecting the county’s financial situation.

“Although we’ve made cuts, we looked to have the least impact on services, while still funding programs that are mandated by state and federal governments.”

Among the investments occurring within the budget, Harrington pointed to the public safety and justice system as well as modernizing county government systems in service to our community.

Achieving general fund balance
The county’s $327 million general fund, which gives policy makers broad spending latitude when compared to other funds within the budget, has historically supported a variety of county services, sometimes beyond levels required by law. On the other hand, budget officials point out that Oregon’s restricted framework for generating property taxes – the general fund’s primary revenue source – puts Washington County at a disadvantage relative to its regional peers.

Recent forecasts of the general fund have revealed significant imbalances. A $31 million gap between projected general fund revenues and expenditures emerged in fiscal year 2022-23, a $25 million shortfall in 2023-24 and a $10 million shortage for next fiscal year.

County budget officials were guided in their work by the values, fundamental approaches and other direction provided by the Board of County Commissioners in a newly adopted Strategic Plan Update 2024-2028, as well as the board’s budget principles and priorities. County budget makers followed this guidance when drawing from lists of general fund reduction scenarios to keep revenues and expenditures aligned, including:

  • Saving $3.1 million by eliminating and freezing approximately 25 vacant, general fund-supported positions.
  • Reducing $4.1 million in general fund transfers that have historically been made to the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP) and Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS) for the second year in a row.
  • Replacing $3 million in general fund support for county facilities capital projects and affordable housing production with support for a limited-duration revenue source called the Strategic Investment Program (SIP).

General fund investments
Several examples of these required county services can be found in the county’s struggling public safety system. To address many of these crucial areas, general fund investments in the adopted budget focus on mandated support for operating a safe and fully staffed jail, maintaining secure court facilities, ensuring mandatory law enforcement training and others.

Additional investments would preserve alternative paths to incarceration, including operating the Washington County Community Corrections Center at full capacity for the first time since the pandemic; fully supporting mental health, drug addiction, veterans, domestic violence and other specialty courts; and implementing promising prevention and diversion programs to reduce juvenile crime, particularly for historically underserved parts of the community.

Modernization and maintenance of critical systems
Through a new, comprehensive capital improvement plan (CIP), Washington County has begun identifying projects to improve the organization’s infrastructure, technology, facilities and major pieces of equipment. This best practice for local governments enables prioritization and alignment with available resources over a five-year window.

The adopted budget supports several of these projects using one-time or limited-duration funding, mostly outside of the general fund, including:

  • Nearly $66 million in limited-duration pandemic recovery dollars for critical maintenance for key public safety facilities operating 24-hours per day, including the Jail, Community Corrections Center and the Harkins House Juvenile Shelter.
  • General fund transfers to the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program (MSTIP) to support an estimated $150 million in transportation projects over the next five years.
  • Approximately $11 million in limited-duration pandemic recovery dollars to help fund a replacement to the organization’s core human resources and financial data system.
  • A total of $31.6 million, largely from carry-forward Oregon Health Plan funds, to establish the Center for Addiction Triage and Treatment (CATT), a new service to offer assessment, sobering, residential treatment and other support needed to address addiction and substance use in the community.

By the numbers
The total adopted budget would increase by $308 million or 17% above the 2023-24 adopted budget. This change is largely explained by general inflationary pressures on operating costs, such as cost-of-living increases, retirement and health insurance as well as the proceeds from the MSTIP bond sale to fund major transportation projects mentioned above.

Looking at the general fund specifically, spending requirements would decrease by $21.9 million (-6%) due to a combination of the budget reductions mentioned earlier and transferring the Public Health and Parks budget out of the general fund to their own special funds.

Focusing on equity
For the third year in a row, Washington County is explicitly assessing equity considerations across the entire budget. Using a model developed nationally by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), Washington County followed a set of equity-focused strategies and questions – called the Budget Equity Tool – to drive informed and targeted decision-making about the allocation of resources.

A full description of the findings can be found in the Budget Equity Tool portion of the budget documents published to the county’s website.

Washington County is a leading-edge, mission-focused organization that successfully serves the community now and in the years ahead. We are a human-centered organization that integrates equity into decision-making and supports the health, effectiveness, creativity and talents of our employees as public servants and the residents whom we serve. The organization is supported by a budget of $2.1 billion and is staffed by 2,570 full-time equivalent employees serving a diverse and growing population of 610,245 on the western side of the Portland metropolitan area. More information about Washington County can be found at