Pierce County Council amends 2010 budget

With the economy showing few signs of improvement, the Pierce County Council voted unanimously yesterday to reduce 2010 county expenses by nearly $5 million.

The year’s first supplemental budget trims the budgets of virtually every department while assuring that the county can still provide the services that taxpayers expect, Council Chair Roger Bush said.

“There are simply no easy choices left to make in this budget,” Bush said. Councilmembers on the Rules and Operations Committee Monday approved a slightly different version of the supplemental budget, but the executive later offered an amendment recommending the Corrections Bureau’s expenses be reduced by nearly $478,000. The bureau’s willingness to share the financial burden allowed the council and executive to reach agreement, Bush said.

The Sheriff’s Department — including corrections — was previously the only department exempted from any reductions. Bush said county residents have repeatedly told the council that removing deputies from our streets is not an option no matter how dire the county’s financial situation. Public safety comprises 50 percent of the county general-fund budget.

Compared to Monday’s Rules Committee budget, yesterday’s final version restores:

— $100,000 to the WSU Pierce County Extension program (to $306,420);

— $120,000 to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (to $25.9 million);

— $500,000 to Planning and Land Services (to $12.6 million);

— $60,000 to Parks and Recreation (to $5.8 million).

The WSU Extension’s 4-H youth programs will be continued, but at 75 percent of its original funding level. Other budget provisos include:

— Mandate that positions vacated after April 1 not be filled until approved by the council;

— Ban out-of-state travel;

— Limit to one per month any department-wide furlough days (which close an entire department);

— Ask the executive to study the feasibility of contracting out Planning and Land Services Department functions to the private sector.

Although the supplemental budget uses $300,000 from the county’s savings account, it leaves $1.1 million in the account for the future. The council twice amended the 2009 budget last year due to decreasing revenues, and Bush cautioned that the council could be forced to re-visit this year’s budget in mid-summer if economic conditions don’t improve.

“Without the prudent actions of this County Council over the past several years, we would be cutting more than we are today,” Bush said. “We have consistently spent less and put more money into savings. But the conditions right now force us, like any other family in Pierce County, to make do with less.”

Pierce County TV will rebroadcast Tuesday’s council meeting on channel 22 through next Monday. It also will be archived on the PCTV Web site at http://www.piercecountytv.org , where the TV schedule is also available.