County revenue lags, reductions being considered

Vacant jobs may wait until financial picture is more clear

County revenue numbers are down significantly and Grays Harbor County Commissioners are asking departments to look at making some tough financial decisions in coming months.

“We are seeing revenue shortfalls in many of our funds,” said county budget director Brenda Sherman at a recent Board of County Commissioners workshop.

As of May 31, the most current budget numbers available, county general fund revenues are down by 4.5% over last year’s total: $14.6 million in 2019, $13.9 million in 2020, a drop of more than $652,000. Meanwhile, spending is up 6.7%: $12.8 million in 2019, $13.7 million this year, an increase of $861,605. Overall, the cash balance is more than $850,000 below the May 31, 2019 total.

Revenue has decreased in most categories, including property tax collections and interest and penalties on taxes; court and law enforcement fines and fees; and licensing and permit fees. The county extended the deadline for 2020 first half residential and commercial property taxes to June 1 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and property tax revenues are down almost $250,000 compared to the same time period in 2019.

Overall, the county’s general fund as of May 31 has a deficit of $2,227,375, according to a chart provided by Sherman.

County Commissioners have asked each county department to look at potential reductions, and the county there is a 90-day hiring freeze for open positions.

Commissioner Vickie Raines called it a challenging time for the county, and said reductions should be made carefully as to not impact the county’s ability to collect revenue.

“We need to make sure when we make changes we don’t bite off our nose to spite our face and make sure we’re strategic in how we make changes,” she said.

The county has put together a list of current vacancies and discussions are underway to determine whether those positions need to be filled immediately, or if hires can wait until later in the year when the budget numbers shake out.

“I don’t know that we would not be able to fill every position that is on there,” said Raines, but if possible some of those open positions could remain vacant until the budget picture becomes more clear and/or improves.

“What I’d like to do is, where we can, and where it’s possible, to not hire versus trying to hire someone and then have to lay them off,” said Raines.

“We need to start making decisions sooner rather that later,” said Commissioner Randy Ross. “We don’t want to hire people, have them start work and then have to lay them off.”

There was no specific talk about layoffs of current employees at the workshop, but Raines said it is possible that if a needed vacant position needs to be filled there could be layoffs elsewhere.

Federal CARES Act money – the county is receiving more than $4 million in reimbursable funding from the act – could provide some relief if specific COVID-19-related expenses are allowable under the act. Raines said that would be part of her presentation to the board Monday when it convenes to discuss how those CARES Act funds would be spent.