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Budget proposes a few additions; public hearing and approval set for May 18, after which board of commissioners will adopt final version June 20.

The new Washington County budget, which will be open to comment at a public hearing May 18, proposes to spend $1.2 billion for operations and projects in the coming year.

County Administrator Robert Davis said the 2017-18 budget proposes targeted spending increases, but also recognizes future issues with employee payrolls, housing and human services, and road maintenance.

"We are facing challenges unique to these times," he said Tuesday (May 9) at a meeting of the county commissioners and public members of the county budget committee and four other special districts governed by the commissioners.

The overall budget for the year starting July 1 is proposed at $1.2 billion, up $38.6 million (3 percent) from the adjusted current budget. The number of full-time employees will go up 44 for a total of 2,000.

The general fund — the county's most flexible spending, two-thirds of which is supported by property taxes — is proposed for a 6 percent increase at $229 million.

The county budget, plus budgets for four special districts, will be discussed at a meeting at 8:30 a.m. May 18 at the Walnut Street Center, 1400 SW Walnut St., Hillsboro. Public comment will start at 10:30 a.m.

Commissioners can make small adjustments to budgets before their scheduled adoption on June 20.

The budget assumes no increases in tax rates — $2.25 per $1,000 of taxable value for the county, 42 cents for law enforcement and 22 cents for library services in levies that run through 2021 — and a 4 percent growth in the taxable value of property countywide. That growth in 2016 was 4.4 percent.

On Tuesday's (May 16) ballot is a five-year renewal, at 68 cents per $1,000, of a levy for sheriff's patrol, investigation and training services for urban unincorporated areas. The renewal would take effect in mid-2018.

The budget also hinges on state and federal grants — the Oregon Legislature and Congress have yet to act on those budgets — and on a variety of other sources.

"The proposed budget seeks to continue to strategically target investments in the basic infrastructure supporting our community while continuing to prioritize core county services," Davis said in his budget message.

Highlights this year

The budget provides for these additions:

• Full-year funding for the Hawthorn Walk-In Clinic for mental health services. The clinic, which has been several years in planning, is scheduled to open May 23 in Hillsboro. The county has contracted with LifeWorks NW and others to provide services.

• A second-year investment in the High-Growth Transportation Program, which uses countywide growth in taxable property value to support $23.4 million in bonds to pay for selected projects. This is in addition to property taxes that county voters authorized for road improvements prior to statewide limits on property taxes in the mid-1990s. Commissioners have continued to honor that commitment through the Major Streets Transportation Improvement Program.

Commissioners also discussed the need for more money to keep existing roads in good condition. The latest Pavement Condition Index is at 76, short of the goal of 80, and excludes damage caused by last winter's storms. An update is pending.

• More money ($188,439) for a housing development project coordinator and other housing work. The proposed general-fund support for housing work tops $1 million, an increase of nearly $600,000 from three years ago. Almost 40,000 households in the county pay 30 percent or more of their income for rent or mortgage costs.

• Seismic upgrades, which have already started, for the Public Services Building and the Law Enforcement Center in downtown Hillsboro. The county is tapping money from Gain Share, which are state payments that offset the county's losses of property taxes from business investments exceeding $100 million.

The county is also renovating an existing building in southwest Hillsboro for use by the sheriff and other police agencies for public safety training.

The county also will start planning for an events center building at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro. Construction is expected to start in 2018.

Issues ahead

Davis said there are some clouds on the fiscal horizon.

Increased county contributions to public employee pensions are projected at $6 million annually, divided equally between the tax-supported general fund and other sources. The county has set aside $6.6 million in a special reserve for pensions, although it will not have to tap that money in the proposed budget.

Also, the county has restrained increases in employee health insurance costs — 3 percent for this calendar year, compared with double-digit increases in some recent years — and is negotiating new contracts with the Oregon Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

General-fund reserves peaked at 28.3 percent in 2016-17, and the proposed budget would move $5 million to boost the contingency fund. But reserves are projected to decline steadily to around 16 percent by 2020; county policy sets a range of 15 to 20 percent.

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For a link to the proposed 2017-18 Washington County budget, click below:

www.co.washington.or.us/Support_Services/Finance/CountyBudget/2017-18-county-budget-reports.cfm

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