County closes last regular meeting of year without adopting 2017 budget

Commission has until Dec. 31

The Grays Harbor County Commissioners failed to pass a 2017 budget during the board’s last regular meeting of the year.

The commissioners have a budget workshop Tuesday to go over some of their differences and will have to call a separate special meeting in order to pass a spending plan by their Dec. 31 deadline.

The three commissioners each have submitted their own budget proposals. At Monday’s commission meeting, both Commissioner Wes Cormier and Commissioner Vickie Raines made their own motions to adopt their respective budgets. Both motions died without a second.

“While Wes and I don’t agree on this issue, it’s a very different disagreement than what you have seen at the commissioner table in the past. It’s not a personal disagreement, it is a philosophy disagreement on how we do things,” Raines said. Raines and Commissioner Frank Gordon have been outspoken in their disagreements with one another in the past. “I think, in general, we (Raines and Cormier) work together very well, and we’ll continue to do so. It’s just that our opinion on how to move forward differs at this point.”

Commissioner Gordon’s budget was not addressed and he did not make a motion for his own budget.

All of the budget proposals now show an operating deficit for the county’s 2017 general fund.

At one point, Cormier’s budget would have finished with a more than $1 million surplus. Late last week, after some argument between Raines and Cormier during a budget workshop on Dec. 15, it was determined Cormier had unintentionally supplanted Fund 137 revenue in the Sheriff’s budget.

That fund benefits from revenue generated by the recently approved three-tenths of 1 percent public safety sales tax. During meetings regarding that sales tax, before it was approved, the public was told the revenue generated by the sales tax would bring additional staff, equipment and services, rather than funding the department at its 2016 levels.

Cormier adjusted his budget between the Dec. 15 meeting and the Dec. 19 meeting. As proposed on Monday, Cormier’s budget would have the county finishing with a more than $928,000 operating deficit. Cormier’s budget, however, would finish $133,330 ahead of the county’s 16 percent target for ending cash.

“I ended up adjusting my budget a little bit more to go more toward the other two commissioners, because I was kind of the outlier of the three,” Cormier said.

Raines’ budget, which would carry an operating deficit of more than $1.24 million, would finish more than $227,000 short of that ending cash target.

Cormier said his biggest concern is the county’s operating deficit.

“I think (the operating deficit) is too much, and I don’t think there’s a plan to reduce that over the next year,” Cormier said.

Raines said she believes the county should pass a budget and make adjustments next year.

“It was pretty much my stance (at the budget workshop) last week that we would watch this month by month consistently to make changes,” Raines said.

Cormier disagrees with that approach.

“Last year we approved my budget of about $26.1 million, and we ended the year with expenditures of $27.7 million, which means we overshot by almost a million and a half,” Cormier said. “My concern about looking at it from a month to month perspective is that you get caught up. Every department will come in here and say, ‘I need this. I need that.’ It’s our job to set priorities.”

Last year, the commissioners followed a similar budget process, with each commissioner submitting a budget proposal, and last year, a fourth option — basically an amalgamation of the three commissioners’ budgets — was submitted. Cormier said he was looking at the potential of a fourth option again this year.

“I put (a budget) together as an option four, which is taking the median of the three budgets,” he said. “That would be a compromise we would all have to take, and that’s something I’m willing to look at.”

Raines said she wasn’t worried about the situation.

“To have a budget go to this date, this isn’t uncommon. It went further or close to it in December 2014, before I came on,” Raines said. “We’ll have a special meeting next week.”

Cormier took his optimism a step further.

“It’s good — your government is working when there’s disagreement,” Cormier said.

With a tight budget looming for 2017, Cormier cast a dissenting vote for a collectively bargained agreement with the Sheriff’s Criminal and Correction Divisions employees. The agreement extends the current contract for another year and includes a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (referred to as COLA).

“Out of the general fund, we can’t afford the contract that was before us,” Cormier said.

The contract ultimately was approved with a 2-1 vote.

Other contracts regarding salaries currently are in negotiation and could result in raises for employees, meaning additional expenditures for the general fund, potentially worsening the operating deficit.