Whatcom County’s 2015 budget includes 18 new hires

Whatcom County government is hiring.

Instead of imposing the layoffs and unpaid days off of a few years ago, Executive Jack Louws proposed adding 18 positions in 2015. Louws released his 2015-16 budget last week.

The new hires, if approved by the County Council, would bring the number of county employees to about 827, the same as in 2011.

This may be the new, post-recession normal. Staffing still would be much less than it was from 2006 to 2010, when the county had more than 900 employees.

County administrators deemed some of the added positions unavoidable. The state will require counties and cities to conduct more inspections of stormwater systems, more frequent stormwater sampling, and more maintenance of pipes, filters and ditches. The executive wrote five new positions into the 2015-16 budget to keep up with the increasing workload, with four starting in 2015.

Hearing a presentation in July on the stricter stormwater rules, council members said they had little choice but to make the hires in order to comply with a state mandate that comes with no funding.

“These unfunded mandates, that are so impactful to all jurisdictions, are hard to deal with,” council member Pete Kremen said in July.

Council member Barbara Brenner at the time suggested suing the state over the new requirements, but other municipalities had beaten her to it. Twenty-five counties and cities, including Ferndale, unsuccessfully appealed the state’s new stormwater rules in 2012.

Council will review the executive’s budget, department by department, in a series of meetings that will take most of the day on Thursday, Oct. 23, and Monday, Oct. 27. Deliberations over the budget will continue into November, with final passage expected in December.

The proposed budget also accounts for a new Superior Court judge, approved by the state Legislature in 2013 to begin serving next year.

The state and county each pay half the salary of superior court judges, which will be $156,363. The state pays for benefits, and the county pays all associated expenses, including court staff.

A $1 million courthouse remodel that includes a new courtroom will be completed by January 2015, the executive’s office said. The executive had no word from the governor’s office as of Wednesday, Oct. 22, on exactly when a fourth Superior Court judge would be appointed.

The number of positions in the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t change from 2014 to 2015, but the executive’s budget includes filling two of the three vacant deputy slots. Sheriff Bill Elfo said the boost to his ranks would improve the department’s “responsiveness.”

The Sheriff’s Office tries to have a new deputy on the street within 10 weeks of the money becoming available.

“We maintain an active Civil Service roster and anticipate that we will select deputies to begin service shortly after the first of the year,” Elfo said.

The full budget is available online at whatcomcounty.us/as/finance/budget.