Posted April 27, 2023
Washington County’s proposed $1.7 billion total budget for fiscal year 2023-24 is now available online for public review and comment. The balanced budget proposal reflects investments to continue delivering significant services to the community and addresses a $25.3 million structural gap between general fund expenditures and revenues.
Although no layoffs or furlough days were required to achieve a balanced proposal, the proposed budget does eliminate vacant general fund positions. These reductions will affect the level of service the county has historically provided.
“A multitude of factors are challenging us in this moment -- some within our control, others not; some pushing us toward better approaches to serving the public, others pulling us backward from the level of service our community is requesting and that we aspire to provide,” states County Administrator Tanya Ange in the proposed budget’s summary.
In her budget message, Ange points to challenges such as Oregon’s property tax system constraining the county’s primary source of discretionary revenue, increasing health care and retirement costs and unfunded federal and state mandates requiring the county to provide certain services but not providing the funding to do so.
“We are experiencing the ambiguity and strain of an emerging, post-pandemic reality for our organization and community, a reality that gives us hope for the future but is also interwoven with persistent inequities and risks,” added Ange.
Active steps to balance the proposed general fund
Among the steps taken to produce a balanced proposed budget for the next fiscal year were:
- No cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for department and County Administrative Office leadership in FY 2023-24.
- Limited increase in the COLA to 3.5% for all non-represented employees.
- A 5% reduction target in health insurance costs to the county from providers.
- A plan to manage future vacancies to a $4 million savings in the general fund for next fiscal year.
- The elimination of 22 currently vacant positions that are general fund supported.
Washington County embarked on a similar round of mostly one-time reductions for its fiscal year 2022-23 budget to address a projected $31.1 million difference in general fund expenditures and revenues at that time. The proposed budget for fiscal year 2023-24 is intended to address structural challenges as the organization moves forward, guided by principles and priorities identified by the Board of County Commissioners.
“Although taking these steps will reduce our level of service to the community, they also represent a significant step toward setting the organization on a more sustainable, stable financial path that delivers services equitably,” wrote Ange.
Addressing structural changes equitably
Departments and offices receiving general fund contributions were requested to submit reduction scenarios at 4%, 7% and 10%. County officials engaged in a careful analysis of each package with an eye toward addressing board budget principles such as:
- positioning the organization for the future,
- enhancing and evaluating revenue and long-term fiscal sustainability,
- making explicit investments in equity,
- funding mandated services and objectively evaluating service levels and
- protecting services that impact community members’ daily lives.
The proposed budget document speaks to supporting these and other board principles, including moving the organization away from its use of one-time revenue sources, ensuring that services mandated by state or federal law are provided and preserving services addressing inequities throughout the community.
County officials are quick to point out that the proposed budget resulting from these efforts falls short of meeting the needs of the community.
“As our proposed budget will demonstrate, our resource-constrained organization is struggling to meet this dynamic and growing need, and has been for quite some time,” states Ange. “Our organization…has limited financial capacity to address these needs over the long term and much of our success is being supported by one-time or temporary revenue.”
The total proposed budget would increase by $67.2 million or 4% above the 2022-23 modified budget. This modest change is largely explained by general inflationary pressures on operating costs, such as cost-of-living increases, retirement and health insurance.
Looking at the general fund specifically, expenditures would decrease by $23.4 million (-6%) due to a combination of the budget reductions mentioned earlier, moving the budgets for the county’s internal service functions from the general fund to individual internal service funds and fully allocating the costs of these internal functions within the total proposed budget for FY 2023-24. Separating and fully allocating internal costs is a best practice of the Government Finance Officers Association.
Focusing on Equity
For the second year in a row, Washington County explicitly assessed 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 Analysis portion of the proposed budget documents published to the county’s website.
Budget Committee Meetings
Washington County has four distinct budget committees: the Washington County/Service District for Lighting No. 1, Urban Road Maintenance District, Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District and the North Bethany County Service District for Roads budget committees. These committees focus on their specific areas and some committees have shared memberships.
Members of the public are encouraged to participate in this year’s budget process in a variety of ways:
- Review the Fiscal Year 2023-24 Proposed Budget Summary and submit questions or comments to [email protected].
- Attend any of the budget meetings or public hearings virtually and provide comments at designated times. The public may also attend in person at the Charles D. Cameron Public Services Building, Auditorium, 155 N. First Avenue in Hillsboro.
- Meetings will also be livestreamed from the County’s YouTube channel.
- Meeting dates and times include:
- Monday, May 8, 2023 – 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. — First of two meetings of the County Budget and Service District for Lighting No. 1 Budget Committees. Public comment invited at the end of the meeting.
- Thursday, May 11, 2023 – 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Second of two meetings of the County Budget and Service District for Lighting No. 1 Budget Committees. Public comment invited at the end of the meeting.
- Monday, May 15, 2023 – 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. – Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District and Urban Road Maintenance District Budget Committee meetings. Public comment invited at the end of the meeting.
- Thursday, May 18, 2023 – 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. – North Bethany County Service District for Roads will meet at 5:30 p.m. The Washington County Budget Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. Public comment invited at the end of each meeting.
- Wednesday, May 31, 2023 – 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. – North Bethany County Service District for Roads, Urban Road Maintenance District and Enhanced Sheriff’s Patrol District Budget Committees Public Hearings. Public testimony is welcomed prior to committee action on each budget. Register in advance by visiting the How to Testify webpage.
- Thursday, June 1, 2023 – 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. — County Budget and Service District for Lighting No. 1 Budget Committees Public Hearings. Public testimony is welcomed at a time certain of 6 p.m., which will be prior to any committee action. Register in advance by visiting the How to Testify webpage.
Washington County, Oregon, has a mission to provide excellent and cost-effective services that support healthy, peaceful, safe and sustainable communities and encourage meaningful participation in community activities and county governance. The organization is staffed by over 2,369 full-time equivalent employees serving a diverse and growing population of 606,378 on the western side of the Portland metropolitan area. More information about Washington County can be found at washingtoncountyor.gov.