County approves 'skeleton' budgetFor those who have been paying attention to the economy over the last several months, it comes as no surprise that, like most local governments, Washington County’s budget revenues are down.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
For those who have been paying attention to the national economy over the last several months, it comes as no surprise that, like most local governments, Washington County’s budget revenues are down.
The projected nearly 25-percent decrease in non-levy revenues prompted Washington County Commissioner Myra Peterson to describe an adopted 2009 budget as “a skeleton.”
“There is no meat,” Peterson said at the board's Dec. 16 meeting about the $160 million total budget for 2009, which is a 10-percent decrease from the county’s 2008 total budget. The board adopted the budget and levy with a 3-1 vote at its Dec. 16 meeting. Newly-elected commissioner Lisa Weik abstained from the vote.
Peterson and commissioners Dennis Hegberg and Gary Kriesel voted in support of the budget and property tax levy, that amounts to $85.1 million, a 5.5-percent increase from 2008.
Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek cast the lone vote against the budget and levy. But despite his dissenting vote, Pulkrabek, a noted “fiscal conservative,” praised the work of county staff and fellow commissioners throughout what he called “difficult fiscal year.”
“I don’t think there is anybody who can demonize the county board as free spending or not fiscally conservative or accountable,” Pulkrabek said, pointing out the decrease in the budget from 2008 and the fact that Washington County has consistently had one of the lowest tax rates of the 87 counties in the state.
“With that being said, the reason I voted against the levy is I still do not have a comfort level with raising people’s property taxes during these times and circumstances.”
Commissioner Gary Kriesel said he sympathized with Pulkrabek’s statements in spirit.
“The county does an excellent job of focusing on core, essential services,” Kriesel said. “It’s an extremely tight, extremely focused budget.”
Weik, who won a special election on Nov. 4 and was sworn in two weeks later, explained her abstention on the budget and levy were due to the fact that nearly all the work on the budget was completed when she joined the board.
“I just do not feel that I should take a vote on the salaries or the budget or levy for this year,” Weik said. “I do look forward to being a very active and involved participant in the process for this coming fiscal year in 2009.”
More trimming after the new year?
County administrator Jim Schug let commissioners know about the possibility of further trimming the budget in 2009, should the forecast for state revenue shortfalls affect local government aid.
“In the new year, we will be looking at potential impact of any legislative changes,” Schug said. “If we feel we need to make up for any loss of state revenue in 2009 we will be bringing those matters before the county board.”
In the meantime, Schug said, the county is evaluating staff vacancies in all its departments to see whether they should be filled in lieu of any impact state cuts to local government aid may have on the county’s budget.
Other budget-related actions:
• Commissioners voted to defer a 1-percent increase in the property tax levy, that would have paid for bonds for the 2006 voter-approved open spaces program. The action amounts to a decrease of $7 in 2009 property taxes for residents homes valued at $250,000.