The Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a $1.7 billion total budget today that included reductions in the general fund to balance a projected $25.3 million gap. The adopted budget also decreased the general fund’s reliance on one-time revenue sources, such as funding from the county’s Strategic Investment Program agreements. The $347 million general fund is the portion of the county’s budget over which the Board of County Commissioners has the most spending flexibility.
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 two town hall meetings and 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.
“I appreciate the significant lift it has taken -- among our staff, budget committee members and fellow board members -- to arrive at today’s adoption of a balanced budget for this next fiscal year. Despite the constrained resources available to us, our focus has been on supporting vital county services and stabilizing our financial foundation. I look forward to continuing the work of goal setting and prioritization as we move forward from here,” said Board of County Commissioners Chair Kathryn Harrington.
“Looking forward, I’m seeing a better Washington County emerging from this transitionary period. Although painful, this year’s proposed budget is helping the organization pivot from its reliance on one-time revenue and toward financial stability,” stated County Administrator Tanya Ange in her annual budget message.
Active steps to balance the general fund
Among the steps taken to produce a balanced adopted 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 temporary reductions last year to address a projected $31.1 million difference in fiscal year 2022-23 general fund expenditures and revenues. The reductions in the fiscal year 2023-24 budget are intended to address structural challenges as the organization moves forward, guided by principles and priorities identified by the Board of County Commissioners.
Addressing structural changes equitably
Earlier in the budget development process, county departments and offices receiving general fund support submitted 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 adopted budget supports 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. A summary of these general-fund-related reductions is provided on the county’s website.
County officials are quick to point out that the proposed budget resulting from these efforts falls short of meeting the needs of the community.
“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 adopted budget increases by $67.6 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. A series of technical and budget-committee-sponsored amendments increased the proposed budget by $478,384 and were largely paid for by contingency funds built into the proposed budget.
Looking at the general fund specifically, expenditures would decrease by $23.1 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 adopted budget for FY 2023-24. Separating and fully allocating internal costs is a recommended best practice of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA).
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 budget documents published to the county’s website.
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 2,392 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.