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Richard recounts county’s highs, lows

County Commissioner Mark Richard’s “state of the county” speech Friday wasn’t written in red ink, even though the county has plenty of it.

He delivered his remarks to a breakfast meeting of some 300 Greater Spokane Incorporated members and guests at Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace Regional Event Center.

The commission chairman ticked off a list of accomplishments despite a budget crisis that required $13 million worth of cuts to balance this year’s budget.

A plan to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from residential encroachment was completed, a railroad spur was built to improve security at the base, and construction began on a nearly $170 million sewage treatment plant.

Routine services didn’t fare as well. County officials had to lay off about 40 employees, eliminate 140 jobs and make corresponding reductions in service, Richard said.

Still, he expressed satisfaction that the budget has an 8.4 percent reserve, allowing the county to retain its AA bond rating.

He also was pleased that the county trimmed $200,000 from its annual energy bill and moved offices back into county buildings to eliminate $150,000 a year in rent payments.

“We feel cautiously optimistic we can weather 2011 without further reductions in services,” he said.

Richard said public safety services were particularly hard hit because furloughs are impractical and not enough workers agreed to give up previously negotiated cost-of-living raises.

Unfortunately, he said, public safety cuts included a community corrections program and other initiatives to reduce the jail population and keep offenders from committing new crimes.

Richard said the county is working with the city of Spokane to restore the community corrections program with available revenue.

He touted county officials’ efforts to reduce the cost of a proposed new jail for which they plan to present a bond measure to voters in April 2011.

He said commissioners and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich rejected plans for a $265 million, multistory structure on the courthouse campus that would cost $8 million a year to operate. Now they’re looking at a remote complex of one-story “pods” that would cost $76 million less to build.

The remote jail would cost $1.2 million a year more to operate, but it would take 63 years for the operating cost to wipe out the construction saving, Richard said.