Umatilla County officials anticipate a 3.2% bump in value in the coming fiscal year, but don’t expect to see new programs.
The county’s 2018-19 budget totaled $78.7 million and runs out June 30. County Commissioner George Murdock said preparing the budget means dealing with the “bow wave” of annual increases for personnel, services and pensions. The Public Employee Retirement System alone, he said, cost the county about $1 million a year.
The increase in the valuation is not enough for the county to add any programs, he said, but will keep the county’s head above water.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “A lot of counties would love to be in our position.”
One chunk of change will come from the Strategic Investment Program deal the county has with Vadata, Inc., big data centers that are part of Amazon.
The program gives Vadata a 15-year break on property taxes as an incentive to build. The county gets to tax the first $25 million in real market value of the project, and Vadata pays a community service fee of $500,000 per year. Taxing districts divvy up the revenues.
County assessor Paul Chalmers said his office won’t know for a few months just how much money the increase in value will bring. He said the state handles that assessment and provides the figures to the county in late summer.
The county also continues to seek state funds for two major capital improvement projects: $550,000 for security enhancements to the front of the courthouse and $1.6 million to renovate the jail to accommodate inmates suffering from a mental health or drug addiction crisis.
Outside of that, Murdock said, the county is maintaining the buildings it has and does not see a need for new construction. The county last spring paid off the debt on the Stafford Hansell Government Building in Hermiston and has no outstanding bond debt.
The county starts budget work in October. Murdock said that lead time helps to get a good sense of what the fiscal scene looks like. But the ongoing work of the county’s Charter Review Committee could play some role in budget preparations. The committee continues to meet and could decide to recommend a new leadership structure, such as a full-time county manager and part-time commissioners.
Until then, the steps in the process are the public budget hearings April 24 and 25 at the courthouse in Pendleton.