The public will have a chance to weigh in on the 2013-14 Whatcom County budget at a hearing before the County Council on Tuesday, Nov. 20.
The council will hold separate hearings that same night on whether to raise property taxes and on proposed changes to county fees - everything from photocopies to construction permits.
Council members have the option of raising property tax revenue by 1 percent, which would add about $250,000 to the budget in 2013. In recent years, council has voted not to raise property taxes.
At work sessions held over the past month, council members made few changes to Executive Jack Louws' budget proposal, said council Chairwoman Kathy Kershner.
The executive's budget, released Oct. 15, calls for reducing costs over each of the next two years. The general fund, which covers many of the county's day-to-day expenses, would go from $78.4 million this year to $75.5 million in 2014.
One major expense will not be known exactly by the time the budget is approved, Kershner said. Negotiations between the county and unions representing its employees are not likely to be concluded by then. One element of the discussions is how to control health care costs, after the council called for a freeze on health benefits and wages.
Council members Kershner and Barbara Brenner both said the council might not vote on the final budget the same night as the hearing, depending on what it hears from the public. Kershner said she expects less controversy than two years ago, when the economy was worse and the budget included layoffs and fund transfers to keep the county's cash reserves healthy.
"I don't anticipate a big blowup of some issue, but you never know," she said.
ATTEND THE MEETING
What: Whatcom County Council will hold public hearings on the 2013-14 budget, 2013 property tax and 2013 fees.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20.
Where: County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.
Details: Go to WhatcomCounty.us/council/agenda.jsp and click on "AB2012-332A" (budget), "AB2012-345" (property tax) and "AB2012-343" (fees).
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2298.