County tax cut more problematic than it seems

If you’re wondering how a 2 percent property tax levy cut proposed by Clark County Councilor David Madore will shake out, you’re not alone.

At a budget workshop last week, a presentation from county budget staff showed no record of the $1.2 million revenue cut, prompting Madore to ask where it was. I asked Budget Director Adriana Prata the same question, and she told me that this late in the game — the county approves its 2016 supplemental budget on Dec. 1 — there’s no way to prepare recommendations for possible cuts.

While Madore has asked county staff to bring suggestions of where to find this $1.2 million in the budget, that’s easier said than done. Prata pointed out that there’s no “ethical way” for budget staff to propose possible cuts.

There isn’t enough time, for example, for county staff to go to all department heads and ask them to prepare their own plans on how to trim their budgets.

“We don’t have any tools to evaluate redundancies,” Prata said.

The soonest we could see a comprehensive plan for cuts, therefore, would be in April when budget staff develop the spring supplemental budget, she said.

Furthermore, the budget office is projecting that its 2016 ending general fund balance, which includes new expenditures like increased health care costs and a new phone system, will be $23.3 million.

Cut $1.2 million from that $23.3 million and you’re looking at a $22.1 million surplus. Clark County’s policy is to keep $23 million in its general fund at all times in case of an emergency and to make sure it has enough money to pay its expenses before revenue rolls in.

That means, if the county pursues this 2 percent property tax decrease, it will have to find cuts to make elsewhere. That doesn’t even begin to explore what that could mean for the 2017-2018 budget.

“We’re really waiting to see what happens on Dec. 1,” Prata said.

And even Councilor Jeanne Stewart’s proposal, which was to take $1.2 million from the general fund and set it aside to pay off debt, would force the county to slip under that $23 million surplus.

That is, unless the council votes to actually increase its property tax levy by 2 percent, and I think it’s safe to say the current county council isn’t going to pursue that option.

Kaitlin Gillespie

Kaitlin Gillespie

I'm the education reporter at The Columbian. Get in touch at or 360-735-4517.

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