Funding issue in forefront for county

Hansell

Umatilla County looked at a long list of budgetary challenges it will face in coming years, and they’re all in addition to the recession.

On Wednesday the county commissioners and the budget committee met to prepare for the 2011-2012 budget process. It was not an official budget committee meeting, so no specific overall numbers dealing with next year’s budget could be discussed. Instead, the groups took a look at what may impact Umatilla County in the next few years.

The biggest cloud hanging over their heads is the closure of the Umatilla Chemical Depot, the end of the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program and the federal monies that come with them.

Emergency manager Jim Stearns confirmed the depot is expected to burn its last mustard container at the end of 2011. Then the clock starts ticking for six months before the funds dry up by June 2012.

“Funding stops,” Stearns said. “It doesn’t taper off, it just stops.”

So the 2012-2013 budget year will be the first without federal CSEPP?funding. Budget officer Bob Heffner estimated a $300,000 hit.

Another federal program, the Payment In Lieu of Taxes, pays the county for federal land not normally put on the tax rolls. The county chose the PILT program over timber payments in 2008. Those will last until 2013. Commissioner Bill Hansell said since the PILT program has lasted for 30 years, he expects it will be renewed.

In 2008 the PILT funds amounted to $950,000, but that was the first time the program was fully funded, Hansell said at the time.

The county also faces the rising cost of PERS. Heffner expects PERS to increase by $700,000 per year for the next two budget years.

State programs run through the county likely will take a hit, Heffner said. He expects state funding to decrease by 30 percent in the next biennium.

Commissioner Dennis Doherty said the county’s general fund can’t be expected to backfill the funding. The group agreed in that case, those state services run at the county level will have to decrease in accordance with their funding.

Unknown factors for the county are its union contracts. It is negotiating with the Umatilla County Law Enforcement Association, known informally as the sheriff’s office union. In 2013 it will negotiate with the courthouse union and the deputy district attorney union.

Another unknown, Hansell noted, is this year’s state legislative session. He was apprehensive what new laws may be passed that will affect counties and their funding.

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