Spokane County commissioners Tuesday put off a decision on how to solve a $600,000 budget crisis in the sheriff’s department.
But they agreed not to touch the county’s $550,000 savings account, which is so low it already concerns Wall Street bond-rating companies.
Before bailing out the sheriff, commissioners said they want to wait until next week, when bids are opened on two surplus sheriff’s helicopters expected to draw about $100,000 each.
That will leave a $400,000 hole in Sheriff John Goldman’s remaining 1995 budget, primarily due to overtime pay for deputies and corrections officers.
The emergency cash likely will come from an accounting switch, commissioners said.
Marshall Farnell, director of budget and finance, projected the money shuffle would work this way:
From every real estate transaction, the county gets one-fourth of 1 percent, or $250 for a $100,000 house.
The money, by law, is earmarked for public works projects, such as sewers and bridges.
The utility department receives about $3 million a year in sales tax money, which can be used for anything.
Because a reserve exists in the real estate excise tax fund, commissioners can move that money to the utility department, and then move sales tax to the sheriff’s department.
It’s simply an accounting transaction, Farnell said, and a better solution than lowering an already paltry reserve fund.
He and the county’s outside financial advisers urged administrators to begin beefing up its rainy-day account to an eventual level of at least $2.5 million.
Should the county lose its prestigious Double-A bond rating, taxpayers would pay millions of dollars more in interest on long-term projects.
Meanwhile, Commissioner George Marlton said Goldman needs to be held accountable for his budget and to demonstrate controls that will head off future emergencies.
“This is like a virus,” Marlton said. “If you don’t get it under control, you never will.”
Efforts to reach Goldman on Tuesday were unsuccessful.