2016 budget reflects strong revenue, promises new investments

May 13, 2015

Budget director Karyne Kieta addresses the board at a May 12 budget work session.

If Chair Deborah Kafoury’s 2016 budget could be ascribed a theme, it would be one of financial resilience, said Karyne Kieta budget director.

Kieta spoke on Tuesday, May 12, during the second of 18 work sessions on the proposed 2016 budget.

“It’s about the ability to prepare for future shocks,” she said. “For the first time I can remember, the county budget is balanced over a five-year period. This is an exceptional accomplishment in view of the pent-up spending priorities as we’ve emerged from the Great Recession. We’re in the enviable position not only to fund current service levels, but to fund new ongoing and one-time-only investments.”

Kieta provided the Board of Commissioners with an overview of the county’s financial health, highlighting changes in revenue and spending from an eight-pound, 1,300-page, 16,000-line item budget.

Next year’s budget of $1.72 billion reflects a 5.5 percent increase in revenue over the current year; or about $90 million.

State and federal funds account for about 30 percent of the county’s overall budget. Meanwhile taxes make up the lion's share -- about 70 percent -- of revenue to the county’s general fund, the $516 million pot over which the Board of Commissioners has most control. 

The Health Department, which now includes Mental Health and Addiction Services, will be the county’s largest component with a proposed budget of about $320 million and a staff of 1,379.

Kieta said that while the county would be investing in staff and new programs, the budget is conservative in planning for the unknown. It balances the budget for five years, fully funds the county reserves and contingencies, and uses one-time only funds to pay for capital investments that the county would otherwise have financed.

She highlighted risks the county will have to contend with in coming months and years: Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) rates will go up, revenue is largely tied to property taxes that cannot go up more than 3 percent a year, the county’s budget depends in part of state and federal funds, and recessions occur more frequently than anyone would like.

“This shows why I felt so strongly about trying to balance the budget over a five year period. This is really the best-case scenario here,” Chair Kafoury said.