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County Council approves $518 million budget

The budget includes a second consecutive one percent increase in the county’s property tax levy

CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Council on Tuesday approved a new $518 million budget for 2019. This is the first year under new County Manager Shawn Henessee, and the first since 2008 that the county will be budgeting on an annual basis, rather than every other year.

“It is a tough budget I guess in the fact that it’s not supposed to be tough, you know?” said outgoing County Chair Marc Boldt. “It’s a good year. Everyone’s making money. But I think, as you look at counties, we’re a regional service provider. So when Vancouver annexes Costco and Home Depot, it comes right out of us but we still have to do the services.”

Henessee agreed, citing growth as both a positive and negative for the county.

Members of the Clark County Council listen to a budget presentation by County Manager Shawn Henessee. Photo by Chris Brown
Members of the Clark County Council listen to a budget presentation by County Manager Shawn Henessee. Photo by Chris Brown

“While we’re realizing more in terms of sales tax and property tax with that growth, there’s also a commensurate increase in the demand for services,” Henessee said.

The budget includes no sweeping cuts, unlike previous years, but Henessee said he was conservative in approving new budget requests.

To read more about Henessee’s proposed budget, read this previous ClarkCountyToday.com story here:

Henessee said the budget office received 156 funding requests during the process of drawing up the budget. Saying “yes” to all of those would have resulted in a total decrease in the county’s fund balance of $67 million.

The bulk of the county’s $170 million General Fund budget is eaten up in staffing. While the number of full-time employees in the county has remained largely static over the last decade, the cost of salaries, pension, and healthcare have jumped, meaning payroll costs have climbed 60 percent since 2009.

The budget adopted by the council was largely the same as the one Henessee recommended. One change was to take money assigned for a marina boat dock for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and reassign it to upgrade an outdated smoke detector system in the county jail.

The budget was balanced by finding $400,000 in cost savings. Property and sales tax revenue have remained strong, but Henessee said he made the decision to budget based on the low end of revenue projections.

“I’d much rather be in the situation of budgeting very conservatively with the sales tax,” Henessee said, “and then being able to go back and realize some of those gains and use that to initiate other projects in the supplemental, or to cover gaps that are appearing elsewhere in the General Fund.”

Henessee said his estimates put projected property tax revenue for 2019 at $1.6 million. That included a one percent increase in the county’s property tax levy, the maximum allowed under state law.

Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee details his proposed budget at a November work session. Photo by Chris Brown

According to Henessee, the increase will raise an additional $632,953 for the county budget, on the backs of an estimated $3.41 per year increase in property taxes on a median-priced home of $349,000. In forgoing the property tax levy increase five of the past seven years, Henessee said the county had given up at least $3.2 million, or a total of $15 million in potential revenue.

Quiring votes no

The sole “no” vote came from incoming Council Chair Eileen Quiring.

“Because I’ve spent eight months in the county campaigning, and the number one complaint that I heard from people is the burden of taxes,” said Quiring. “And I realize that is not something the county put onto the people, it actually was the state legislature last year that put that burden onto the people.”

Quiring also was the lone “no” vote on the decision to take a one percent increase in the county’s road fund. That move should add another $4.66 a year for a median priced home, but will help the county to more quickly address several traffic bottlenecks, and to move ahead with projects near the I-5/179th Street interchange.

Councilor Julie Olson pointed out that she too had spent much of the year campaigning, and had responded differently to constituent complaints over tax increases.

“Over the last 10 years our expenses have gone up 1.5 percent a year. So the idea that we’re somehow wasting money and not paying attention to what we’re doing — sure there are opportunities for us going forward on a line-by-line basis to continue to squeeze — but the notion that we’re not already doing that, I’m finding offensive,” said Olson.

Henessee has said he intends to start 2019 off by sitting down with each county department to go over their individual expenses, line-by-line, looking to see if any further waste can be cut. However, he didn’t want to start things off by asking for blanket cuts, since some departments have been better than others at looking for efficiencies and cutting costs.

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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