County budgets conservatively due to uncertain revenues

Five years after the global recession, the revenue situation for Hood River County has not improved as fast as the county would like, and that doesn’t appear to change anytime soon.

Hood River County Commissioners approved the county’s $51.6 million budget for fiscal year 2014-15 on Monday night, which includes monies that comprise everything from expenditures in county personnel and materials to unappropriated ending fund balances.

The budget for fiscal year 2014-15 doesn’t mark a substantial departure from last year’s budget of $54.6 million and the drop in the amount, in part, represents conservative budgeting due to uncertainty over revenue sources, particularly on the state and national level.

Sandi Borowy, county director for the Department of Budget and Finance, reported in her budget narrative that “state revenue sources continue to be questionable,” and that the county would have to “continue to explore new revenue sources to supplement existing revenues and replace others that have been lost as result of the national/global economic difficulties of the last several years.”

Borowy said one of those questionable revenue sources comes from Secure Rural Schools — a federal program that compensates counties whose land lies in national forests.

“Those funds fueled our Public Works road program to the tune of almost $2 million — now $600,000,” she explained in an email. “That funding has been decreasing and in jeopardy of loss for several years now.”

The legislation received a one-year reauthorization last fall, but Borowy expressed a lack of confidence in how long that program might be sustained and if Hood River County could count on those funds. This year, Borowy said the Public Works budget — the budgeted expenditures for which decreased from $5,618,700 to $5,047,670 — did not rely on anticipated revenues from Secure Rural Schools.

“The federal forest funding is a question mark and will continue to be so until the Congress settles on either an annual appropriation that we can rely on or the funding is formally ended,” she noted.

Borowy added that the state “has its own budget issues with available funding, plus creates budget flux by changing their operations in regard to state programs.”

In general, Borowy said the county is “trying to hold its own in spite of revenues not keeping up with increasing costs. The first goal is to keep mandated services covered, then navigating what comes up in the future from any number of scenarios local governments don’t have control over.”

“There will be no quick or discernible events that will impact county operations and turn the immediate perspective around to an increasingly positive outlook in the near future,” Borowy cautioned in her budget statement.

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