The Okanogan County commissioners unanimously approved a $24.8-million budget for 2022, a modest $281,000 increase over the 2021 budget. Most increases are due to salary and benefit increases, County Auditor Cari Hall said
The biggest changes from last year include hefty increases for Microsoft software licenses, which will cost $102,000, Hall said.
There have been no layoffs or staffing changes, although some department’s expenses have changed because of retirements by employees at a higher pay scale, Hall said.
Multiple departments have submitted requests for additional staff, vehicles, and other equipment, but the commissioners put those requests on a wish list for further discussion to determine if the expenses are warranted and manageable within the county’s finite resources, Hall said.
Emergency Management has a 25% decrease for next year, primarily because the department had extra expenses in 2021 to assist Public Health with the COVID pandemic response. That money hasn’t been allocated for next year because they can’t predict if it will be needed, Hall said.
Emergency Communications will see a jump of $1.6 million because of a new voter-approved tax to fund upgrades in infrastructure and equipment.
The budget includes $6.6 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), part of the $8.19 million allocated to the county to assist with economic recovery after the pandemic. The county received half of its $8.19 million allocation in 2021 and will get the remainder in 2022. The county has to allocate the money to be able to use it, even though they have until the end of 2024 to spend it, Hall said.
This fall, the county used $2 million in ARPA funds to purchase an old U.S. Forest Service building, which will be renovated for Superior Court functions.
The budget shifts allocations for the fairgrounds, transferring money for maintenance at the fairgrounds into the fairgrounds’ own account, rather than lumping it in with other maintenance expenses, Hall said. There is less money for the fair itself because revenues are down, after the fair was canceled in 2020 and cut back in 2021 because of COVID.
The Planning Department budget decreased because the Okanogan watershed plan has been completed, so the county is no longer receiving a grant for a facilitator and the planning process.
Some departments, such as Noxious Weed Control, start the year with a lower budget because the commissioners do a supplemental appropriation when weed-control contracts start in the spring.
Several accounts have money in reserve in case equipment needs to be replaced, including computer networking equipment and servers for Central Services, and election and tabulation equipment in the Auditor’s Office, Hall said.
Although money is always tight, the budget came together more easily than in some recent years, Hall said.