Spokane County commissioners approved a $675 million budget Monday, which is smaller than last year due to a change in behavioral health funding.
Medicaid and Medicare money that had been flowing through the county for mental health services is instead now going directly to organizations administering the funds. That change alone reduced the budget by about $70 million.
Spokane County CFO Tonya Wallace said the county also paid off $13 million of wastewater debt that was in last year’s $790 million budget, and is not in this year’s. And she said several major projects the county has been involved in this year are not estimated to cost as much in 2020.
Last month, commissioners voted to increase the county’s 2020 general levy, its conservation futures levy and the road levy by 1%. They also voted earlier this month to take $5.7 million of “banked” capacity from the road levy, shift it to a different fund and use it on one-time road projects and improvements to the county campus.
Local governments are allowed to increase how much they levy by 1% a year, and if they don’t increase it, they are allowed to “bank” that capacity for future use and have the authority to collect those taxes at a later date.
About $3 million of the banked capacity will be used for road projects and $2.7 million will be used for county campus projects, said Wallace.
County Commissioner Josh Kerns was the only commissioner to vote against the levy when commissioners approved it earlier this month. During that meeting, Kerns said he would have preferred to bank the capacity instead of collect it this year.
That $2.7 million in road funds could be used for courthouse campus restoration and preservation, as well as other improvements to parking lots and the jail.
County Commissioner Al French said the county can use taxes collected through the road fund for one-time improvements. He said it’s better than going into debt to pay for those fixes.
French said the county has shifted the road fund at least twice before, including money for the waste treatment facility and improving the jail.
“We could go out and borrow money, but then my taxpayers are going to have to pay for that, and pay for the interest,” he said.
County Commissioner Mary Kuney said the county needs to maintain roads and the county’s buildings to avoid spending more money to overhaul or replace them later.
“It will take millions of dollars to get everything where it needs to be,” she said. “But we’re at least trying to put some of that back into our assets so we’re not spending more money in the future.”
Some of the county’s biggest expenses are the Public Works finance department at $50.2 million, the Sheriff’s Office at $44 million and the jail, which was budgeted $37 million. The county also budgeted $14.4 million for the prosecutors office and $9.3 million for the public defenders office.
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