Board Adopts 2022-23 County Budget
For Immediate Release: Friday, June 24, 2022
Board adopts $1.6 billion county budget
The Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a $1.6 billion total budget earlier this week after a series of community engagement opportunities, public hearings and the initiation of an equity-focused budget process. The spending plan represents a changing financial landscape for the organization as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic era, including steps to better align constrained revenues with community need.
“Washington County continues to make headway in addressing growing community need, but our capacity to keep up is seriously challenged,” said Board Chair Kathryn Harrington. “To cite three examples, our financial forecasts show immediate and ongoing challenges, the technical systems supporting our operations are outdated and our state partners continue to hand down mandates without the funding needed to implement them. As a Board of County Commissioners, we have a responsibility to build a stronger, more sustainable and nimble county government serving our community in the future.”
“Analysis in this proposed budget summary shows a critical moment has arrived to examine our financial foundations and clarify investment priorities,” said County Administrator Tanya Ange. “I look forward to working with the board as we take a long-term look at our financial situation through the process of building a new Community Strategic Plan.”
Active Steps to Balance the General Fund
To arrive at a balanced budget as required under Oregon budget law, the county instituted a series of cuts over the short term to address a $30 million gap between revenue and requested expenditures. Filling this gap included the use of reserves and other one-time revenue; pausing a $4 million annual general fund appropriation to affordable housing production; stopping all but critical capital projects to improve facilities and technology systems; and maintaining $3.7 million in general fund savings through an ongoing hiring freeze of all vacant and requested positions.
Short- and Long-term Challenges
Immediate challenges to the budget include the impact of rising inflation, flat or reduced state funding for core services such as Community Corrections, increased requests for new positions due to the growing demand for services, state and federal mandates that come without funding and the elimination of one-time federal aid to address pandemic impacts to services.
Long-term challenges include a property tax system that does not produce revenue at pace with growing and dynamic community need; antiquated enterprise financial, human resources and budgeting systems; a lack of an enterprise-wide capital improvement planning approach; and a legacy of general fund transfers to library and road improvement services from the days before voter-supported property tax levies were rolled into the county’s permanent tax rate due to statewide property tax reform.
The total adopted budget is $55.3 million (4%) greater than the 2021-22 budget.
Looking at the general fund specifically, expenditures would increase by $15.3 million representing a modest increase of 4%. Most of the growth is in the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office expenditures which are increasing by $3.9 million and $2.6 million, respectively, to maintain current service levels at pace with population growth and new state mandates. Additionally, general fund contingencies increase by $17.6 million to meet reserve policy targets. The general fund represents the portion of the budget over which the Board of County Commissioners has the most discretionary spending authority.
Revenues from property and other taxes supporting the general fund increased by 9% compared to the 2021-22 budget. This single revenue category, which is constrained in its growth through provisions in the Oregon Constitution restricting property taxes, supports 58% of the county’s general fund.
Focusing on Equity
For the first time in the organization’s history, equity considerations were explicitly assessed across the entire budget. Using a model developed nationally by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity (GARE), Washington County developed a set of equity-focused strategies and questions – called the Budget Equity Tool – to drive informed and targeted decision-making about the allocation of resources.
As described in the budget summary, departments and offices throughout the organization identified “several equity investments that reflect significant staff work, community engagement, attention to access and outcome data, a commitment to culturally appropriate service delivery and an investment in staff capacity to meet the needs of a very diverse community.”
A full description of the findings can be found in the Budget Equity Analysis portion of the proposed budget documents published to the county’s website.
The process for adopting the budget this year included extensive opportunities for public involvement, including two town hall meetings hosted by the Board of County Commissioners in December 2021 and March 2022. After a brief orientation in April, each budget committee provided opportunities for public comments and questions, the answers to which were posted to the county website. The final steps of the process involved public hearings convened by each budget committee and finally by the Board of County Commissioners.
Washington County, Oregon, has a mission to provide excellent and cost-effective services that support healthy, peaceful, safe and sustainable communities and encourage meaningful participation in community activities and county governance. The organization is staffed by over 2,337 full-time equivalent employees serving a diverse and growing population of 605,036 on the western side of the Portland metropolitan area. More information about Washington County can be found at www.co.washington.or.us.
Media Contact:Philip Bransford, Communications Officer