County’s 2012 budget gets by with no major cuts, no tax increases

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon delivered a proposed budget on Friday that would avoid big sacrifices in 2012 without any tax increases.

The $206 million operating budget aims to keep the county competitive for attracting jobs in aerospace and in other industries. It would trim about 1 percent of the county’s budgeted positions.

It also would continue funding for senior

services and other popular programs, such as 4-H and the Master Gardeners.

“We are choosing a fiscally responsible path forward,” Reardon said.

Though the executive maintained that Snohomish County has better positioned itself than other governments in the region, he also cautioned it would be “naive to think that we do not face challenges.”

The overall county budget, under Reardon’s plan, would be nearly $592 million. The county typically adopts the budget in late November or early December.

Looming obstacles include the near certainty of state budget cuts this winter, resulting in less money for programs run by counties and other local governments. There’s also ongoing debate about how to pay for the county’s long-term roadwork.

Reardon, as in the past, on Friday touted the lack of any rise in the county’s portion of the property tax for the years he’s been in office. The tax even went down one year.

While no tax increase is proposed, it’s not as if big money is at stake for homeowners. A 1 percent boost in the county’s property tax, for example, would add $2.42 per year to the bill for an average home. That calculation, by Assessor Cindy Portmann, is based on the tax on a $276,000 house — the average assessed value for 2011.

Meanwhile, people in unincorporated areas last year saw taxes increase by an average of $27 because annexations by Lake Stevens and Marysville left fewer people paying for the county roads levy.

The county has the option of lowering the levy so the amount that individual property owners pay stays the same. Reardon’s proposed 2012 budget makes no such adjustment. His staff said the plan is to discuss that before 2013, when annexations by Bothell and possibly other cities might kick in.

The proposed budget eliminates 28 positions, about 1 percent of the total. The 2012 budget calls for 2,643 positions. Most of that is because of 29 county road positions are being cut, though only seven are likely to be actual layoffs, said Brian Haseleu from the finance department.

In Reardon’s plan, the county operating budget rises by about $1.9 million from 2011. The increase owes to new construction being added to the tax rolls, as well as more sales tax and better tax collection, finance director Roger Neumaier said.

Inflation, forecast at 3.7 percent, is expected to eat up any new revenue, Neumaier said.

Next, the budget goes to the County Council for revisions.

County Councilman Dave Gossett, who led the budget review last year as council chairman, said he would be giving close scrutiny to the executive’s revenue forecasts.

Another area where Gossett has focused attention is paying for long-term road improvements. That’s essential, he said, to make the county an attractive location for aerospace projects such as a manufacturing plant for the new version of Boeing’s 737. Gossett said the county lacks two-thirds of the money needed for roads through 2025. Reardon’s staff say those road projections are out of date because the economic downturn has reduced demand.

Gossett also said he would like to roll back the effective tax increase that people in unincorporated areas received last year because of the annexations. At the same time, he cautioned, “I don’t know if that is feasible given the crisis that the roads fund is in.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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