Thurston County government departments are preparing for a reduction in expenditures in order to curb the predicted recession-level financial impacts that could be brought on by COVID-19 and its associated closures and restrictions.
On Wednesday, April 29, Assistant County Manager Robin Campbell led a discussion with many county-level elected representatives. County staff members are expecting to see an approximate $5 million to $10 million drop in revenue over this budget cycle due to the impacts related to the COVID-19 crisis.
To combat this, staff are preparing a six-month savings model in which they plan on cutting expenditures potentially across all funds. They’re looking at multiple scenarios that would begin reducing about $5 million starting in July.
The brunt of this loss of revenue is expected to come from a significant drop in sales tax and property tax returns. According to the current biennium budget, taxes are the largest source of revenue for the county’s general fund as property, sales and excise taxes make up about 62 percent of the fund’s revenue.
Before the Board of County Commissioners and county manager’s office took questions, Campbell admitted there are still many unknowns with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has largely been combated with state-mandated stay home orders.
“We’re not alone. We’re not the only ones who don’t know this stuff, nobody knows this,” Campbell said. “All of us are doing our best to address the financial situation when we don’t know some of the most important facts.”
Revenue for 2020 was projected to come in at about $104.5 million, with expenditures at about $105.5 million, Campbell said. At the start of the year, sales tax collections were up and the forecast for the first quarter was looking promising.
“We were really on a steady course prior to COVID-19. But that’s not where we’re at today,” she said.
Sheriff John Snaza said his department has already begun implementing a freeze on hiring.
Thurston County Assessor Steven Drew said he’d like to see the county offload expenditures at the forefront of nonessential projects such as technological upgrades and divert those savings into the general fund.
Drew said his office would have difficulty completing its duties if a reduction in employee hours was required.
“Every one of these choices has intended and unintended consequences,” Drew said.
County Auditor Mary Hall said she’d like to put the budget cuts forward to the staff and members of each department.
“It would be interesting to see some type of doodle poll to staff that was anonymous that would say ‘We want you to keep your job. What would be your choice out of these options?’ Because I’m hard pressed to say let’s do this. I’m just not prepared to say this is the best option,” she said, adding later that the county should make staff cuts a last priority.
County Commissioner Gary Edwards suggested that the county should possibly ease regulations on construction to bring in more revenue through the Community Planning and Economic Development Department.
Thurston County elected officials also received guidance from the county’s acting public health office, Dr. Diana Yu. She detailed the safety principles of an eventual reopening of the county to the public and employees.
County commissioners voted on March 18 to close most of the facilities off to the public to help slow the spread of COVID-19.