On Oct. 15, I released my proposed 2013-2014 budget to the Whatcom County Council. The proposal reflects my vision for how the county can provide the best services possible in a challenging fiscal environment. We are slowly beginning to see glimmerings of a comeback from the worst recession of most of our lifetimes; however, our county is still recovering. My immediate goals are to make sure expenses match revenues for county and state mandated services and that our financial plan is sustainable into the future.
The proposed budget was built on budget development guidelines that the Council approved in May. It maintains sufficient reserves to fund operations, protect assets and finance priority long-term capital projects. Specifically, it provides for the replacement of our antiquated phone system; completes the assessor - treasurer's computer system; and pays for a new records management system for the Sheriff's Office. These general government projects will increase efficiencies and for the Sheriff's Office, bring us into compliance on crime reporting. Also, we are planning to complete specific road and flood projects to protect and enhance existing infrastructure.
We have analyzed our processes and programs for innovative ways to maximize delivery of services and reduce costs. For instance, our vehicle fleet has been reduced, and the programmed replacement schedule extended. This has resulted in direct savings of over $300,000 annually. Additionally, we are working on Health Department office consolidation to save facility costs and centralize services.
You can rely on the fact that within the proposed budget county staffing and programs will remain virtually the same. Our workforce is stable and we anticipate only minor shifts in our employee base due to retirement and attrition. I believe it is in the interest of the public and employees to provide a stable working environment particularly after several years of economic turbulence. We have an exemplary workforce in Whatcom County government, and I'm proud of the commitment they bring to their work each and every day.
Underneath the budget numbers we are working diligently on the priorities I have identified for the future.
? On new jail planning - we are narrowing down our decision on a jail planner and property site selection for the facility.
? In conjunction with the prosecutor and the Superior Court judges, a request to the Board for Judicial Administration legislative executive committee has been submitted for a fourth Superior Court judge. That committee has decided to send our request to the full board recommending support for the coming legislative session.
? Our public works leadership team is working to secure grant and loan funding for the Birch Bay Drive Pedestrian Facility project, a multi-beneficial project which includes building a two-mile promenade and berm along Birch Bay Drive. Applications have been filed for a WSDOT Surface Transportation Program grant and Washington State Office of Financial Management grant. A Public Works Trust Fund loan will fund the remaining amount needed to complete the project and that will be paid back through the county road fund.
? Along with Mayor Linville, the Bellingham Fire Chief and several Whatcom County fire service representatives, I've reviewed options and costs associated with maintaining a unified Medic One System. In June recommendations to create an EMS Oversight Board, a Technical Advisory Board and EMS administration were formalized and presented to the city and county councils, and unanimously approved. We are now building the contracts that outline the shared responsibilities for provision of this vital service to our communities.
My vision for the county is to empower staff to seek continual improvement in our delivery of service, while navigating a complex, multi-jurisdictional maze of rules and regulation. We can achieve a more concise process, with more certainty and clarity as we administer code requirements. I am working bi-weekly with senior staff providing suggestions and encouragement for changes within the organization. Of particular note, we are close to implementing the long overdue review of our existing land use codes.
An innovative staff, time, and the economy's rebound, will see our county services more efficient, centralized and improved. Your government is working to preserve, protect and enhance all the quality attributes of our small, yet very special, community.
Jack Louws is Whatcom County executive.