Thurston County Budget Amendment Much Bigger Than Usual

Martin Bilbao / The Olympian

Unexpected costs and the continued response to the pandemic have shaped a significant budget amendment for Thurston County.

The amendment includes millions in pandemic grants, costs associated with the state’s landmark Supreme Court ruling against Blake and potential property extensions, Deputy County Director Robin Campbell said.

Residents can weigh the amendment during a public hearing on Tuesday, June 22.

“It’s not as much as the original budget, but it’s a hugely significant amount of money that’s changing this time around,” Campbell said.

The county is budgeting a series of grants, including $ 28.2 million in American Rescue Act funds and about $ 60 million for public health and social services, Campbell said.

“We have a significant amount of money coming (public health and social services), mainly to support the response to the pandemic, and a large part in funding to pay for vaccines,” said Campbell.

The county received American Rescue Act funds on May 19 and expects an additional $ 28 million from the federal government in about a year. Campbell said the county commissioners council has yet to allocate funding for specific purposes.

With respect to the public health pandemic response, the amended budget report includes nearly $ 7.4 from the state Department of Health and $ 25 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for mass vaccination events.

There is also a placeholder of $ 5 million in anticipation of more DOH funds and $ 2 million for the quarantine and isolation of the homeless who have health issues that put them at higher risk. , according to the report.

Meanwhile, the report shows social services received about $ 8.76 million in rental and utility assistance funds from the US Treasury for those affected by the pandemic.

Social services also received about $ 10.2 million from the treasury through the state Department of Commerce for the same purpose, according to the report.

Blake shutdown costs

The state’s landmark ruling against Blake has placed a burden on the county courts, the prosecutor’s office, and the public defense.

The February ruling concluded that the state’s mere drug possession law was unconstitutional because it criminalized passive and unconscious behavior. Since then, the state legislature has passed Senate Bill 5476, downgrading these charges to serious misdemeanors.

The planned budget amendment allocates hundreds of thousands of dollars, primarily for the general enjoyment of the county, to deal with the fallout from the decision.

“We had no reservations for this type of situation,” said Campbell. “The current general fund balance is sufficient to cover this at the present time … but we assume that we will get money from the state to help offset these costs.”

Campbell said the county expects the Blake decision to take years to resolve. She added that the county still did not know what support the state could possibly offer.

The amended budget report says the prosecutor’s office requested $ 288,734 to fund four additional positions to deal with the impact of the Blake decision. The resulting pandemic workload and backlog has put staff under stress this year, The Olympian previously reported.

Likewise, Public Defense requested $ 238,464 to fund three new positions and increase its budget for professional legal services, according to the report.

The report shows that the County Superior Court requested funding of $ 66,114 to cover various costs, including a case coordinator to manage the workload and schedule of the Blake decision.

Meanwhile, the district court requested $ 59,698 in funding for an adult probation counselor and $ 11,300 to deal with a delay of more than 1,500 cases caused by the pandemic.

Finally, the clerk’s office asked for $ 214,915 for two legal process specialists and a few court support specialists, according to the report. These positions would attend hearings and manage documents, according to the report.

Space requirements

The amendment includes mock financing for two potential property expansions.

The most expensive is the Atrium building located at 3000 Pacific Ave. in Olympia, which the county plans to lease for at least seven years. The amendment sets aside $ 7 million for leasehold improvements to this 90,000 square foot building.

If the county decides to rent the atrium, County Director Ramiro Chavez previously said general government offices will move to this building while the main campus expands law and justice offices.

Action on a letter of intent has been blocked several times over the past few months as the county continues to examine the true cost of the project.

On June 8, the county commissioners council voted 2-1 to include the project at the June 22 public hearing on an amendment to the county’s capital improvement program.

Commissioner Gary Edwards has repeatedly opposed the Atrium project because he believes it is premature to commit as the pandemic continues to disrupt the way county employees use office space.

The second potential expansion involves the purchase of the Mottman complex at the intersection of Ferguson Street Southwest and 29th Avenue in Tumwater.

The county could set aside about $ 5.6 million for this purchase, according to the amended budget report. The Auditor’s Office is already renting space at this location for a ballot processing center.

County Auditor Mary Hall has asked the board to buy the complex so it can meet urgent space needs, consolidate some of its staff and secure the facility before the next cycle of the presidential election.

Public hearings on the Budget Change and Capital Improvement Program Change will be held at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22 at the Thurston County Courthouse, Building 1, Room 280 on Lakeridge Drive Southwest in Olympia.

Those who wish to attend virtually can pre-register through Zoom or simply watch from the county’s YouTube channel.

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