The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
The Times 

Columbia County Commissioners adopt $13.6 million budget for 2020

Plan includes six-year Transportation Improvement Project, and sets fee schedules


January 2, 2020

DAYTON—The Board of County Commissioners have adopted their budgets for next year, and there are some things the budget will allow and some things the budget won’t allow.

One thing the county won’t be able to do next year is to finish renovating the former Convenient Care Clinic building, on N. 2nd St., which they now own, Chairman Mike Talbott said, at last week’s regular commission meeting.

Talbott said the commissioners have been planning to house the Public Health Department in that building, but that will take a little longer to accomplish because they are hesitant to pay for additional renovation costs out of the $1.5 million reserve budget.

“We are planning on doing it, but there is nothing in the budget at this present time,” he said.

Asbestos abatement has been done, but the rooms still need to be soundproofed, at a cost of $120,000, he said.

In addition, the commissioners don’t want to overburden the county’s Facilities Manager, Dave Finney, with work on the new building. Finney is working on the HVAC system project for the courthouse, and performing regular courthouse maintenance, along with his other duties, he said.

The commissioners will consider taking out a loan and using money from grants to pay for the cost of the renovation.

County employees will receive a 2 percent cost of living raise, and they will each receive a $100 per month contribution toward their healthcare benefit packages.

Commissioner Chuck Amerein said there could be some seed money in the 2020 budget for the county’s Flood Control Zone District. Some of the county budgets have been restructured, possibly freeing up some funds, and projects could be done more cost effectively, he said.

County Engineer Charles Eaton presented the commissioners with the 2020 annual construction program, the County Arterial Preservation Program and the Six-year Transportation Improvement Program for their consideration.

Eaton said there is funding for replacement of the Vernon Smith Bridge and the Starbuck Bridge projects, which are slated to begin in 2020, but none for the Baileysburg Bridge.

He also said road improvement projects are a smaller program.

“We are pretty much leveraged out, so we can pretty much not apply for any new grants because there are no funds for matches,” he said.

Eaton said the six-year Transportation Improvement Project (TIP) is similar to last year’s with the following exceptions:

Kellogg Hollow Phase III has been added, along with the Whetstone/Hwy 12 Project.

Due to the lack of short term funding, the Lewis Gulch Project, the MacKay Alto Project, Phase III of the Turner Rd. Project, and improvements to Weinhard Rd, are being removed from the TIP.

Realigning the Johnson Hollow intersection with Hwy. 12, Phase III of the Eckler Mt. Rd. Project, Phase I and II of the Tucannon Rd. Project and the Smith Hollow Rd. Project will be considered next year.

Phase I of the county-wide sign upgrade will take place in 2020.

At their meeting, the BOCC adopted the 2020 fee schedule for county Road operations, for geographic information services, for solid waste, and for parks and recreation.

The Parks and Recreation Fee Schedules for the Touchet Valley Golf Course and the Fairgrounds received the most public comment; the Friends of the Fairgrounds, and the Touchet Valley Golf Course Board have been working with the commissioners to institute fees that are reasonable.

Responsibility for the Parks and Recreation Department is now under County Engineer Charles Eaton. and he said all fees were raised across the board, by 10 percent for administrative costs.

“For the last ten years the Parks and Rec. Department has operated with an average of $115,000 in current expense added in for support,” Eaton said. “The 2019 budget was budgeted for that $115,000 average. It came in at $145,000 needing current expense support, so we’ve been on losing ground.”

He said the goal for 2020 is to bring the amount the county subsidizes from current expense down to $130,000. In 2021. He said the amount from current expense should be down to $115,000. There will be additional fee increases along the way.

Commissioner Ryan Rundell said they need to control some of the “bleed out”.

“I’m not expecting to make a profit and I don’t want to make it so burdensome nobody goes there, anymore,” he said.

Eaton said all fees were raised across the board, by 10 percent for administrative costs

The fee schedules are posted on the Public Works Department website and copies of the six-year TIP can be obtained at the Public Works Department.

Also last week, the commissioners adopted a resolution authorizing salary increases for themselves.

The Commissioners are required by law to set their own salaries but cannot set a salary for a time period which is included in his/her current term. None of them are elected to a term beyond Dec. 31, 2022.

Their salaries have been previously set for all years prior to 2023.

They are currently making $35,000, each, plus all benefits accrued. They will receive a yearly 3 percent increase in salary, with the salary set at $40,000 in 2023.

The commissioners also approved a collection for the 2020 Soldiers and Sailors Fund, at a rate of one and one eighths cents per thousand of assessed value.

Chuck Reeves was reappointed to the Planning Commission in District 3, and William E. Carter was appointed in District 2.

Jeff McGann’s resignation on the Civil Service Commission was approved.


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