PENDLETON - Umatilla County's proposed budget for the coming year is balanced, for now, but a shaky state economy isn't helping, Umatilla County Budget Officer Bob Hefner said in his budget message Monday.

The proposed total operating budget for next year is slightly less than $50 million. In addition, the county has $3.3 million budgeted for capital projects and just below $3 million in debt service. That total of $56.2 million is a decrease of $8.5 million from the current year, Hefner said.

A major reason for the drop in the budget total is a decrease of $4.1 million due to the transfer of mental health services to an outside provider.

The budget reflects reduced state funding for some services, a reduced growth rate in assessed property values and no growth in other revenues. Combined with increased costs and greater demand for services, that produces "difficult circumstances," Hefner said.

"Anything can change," Commissioner Bill Hansell said about the figures for the 2005-06 budget year. "Especially while the General Assembly is still in session."

Hansell said the county is required to present a proposed budget to the state by May 1 in order to qualify for some funding. A more finalized version of the budget will be considered by the commissioners in June.

"While the budget is balanced, it is built on a variety of assumptions that will require resolution as we move into 2005-06 and future years." Hefner said.

For instance, Hefner had to predict PERS expenses, which may change based on two remaining court challenges of 2003 legislative reforms.

State funding also is uncertain, as is predicting assessed values for property taxes, he noted.

The proposed budget assumes an increase in assessed value of 3.5 percent. If that prediction is off 1 percent, it means a $92,500 difference in the budget.

In the long term, Hefner said 3.5 percent growth in assessed value "is not sufficient to maintain current operations funded with discretionary resources ... The county will need to seek other solutions to balance resources and expenditures, which may include a reallocation of funding support and service reductions."

The final variable in next year's budget will be the ending-fund balance from the current year. Any significant variances from the budgeted amounts would force county officials to make adjustments.

In the public safety area, funding for CSEPP - Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program - is expected to decrease, and three grant-funded positions will be added for the sheriff's office and community corrections. The district attorney's office will add one employee.

The public works budget decreases by $231,000 and staffing is reduced by one full-time employee, Hefner said.

The budget work sessions were scheduled all week, but on Monday afternoon Hansell said he expected the reviews to be completed by noon today.

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