Budgeting for Mason County’s Future
As commissioner, my top priority is to write, pass and implement a responsible, balanced budget that meets the needs of Mason County’s residents.
But when it comes to budgeting, government is often slow to adapt to financial realities, due in large part to mandates handed down from state and federal government. These unfunded mandates combine with a difficult regulatory environment and shrinking revenues to set the stage for yearly budget battles that seem to have fewer and fewer winners.
I believe we can do better, which is why I am proposing changes to how we budget in Mason County.
There are three steps commissioners can take to budget for Mason County’s future.
First, we must improve our local economic forecasting and revenue analysis. This is a process that should be ongoing and not be limited to our budget writing months. With this information, we can better understand where money is coming from and determine how reliable those sources are – before we commit to spending those dollars.
Second, we must build a collaborative environment with all county elected officials to establish priorities early in the year. Commissioners begin gathering budget requests from county offices during the summer months in order to write the budget in the fall. Though some of this work is guided by statute, starting the conversation earlier will give commissioners, and staff, more time to weigh needs and find funding sources.
Finally, I believe Mason County should move to a two-year budget.
By adopting a two-year budget, we can provide a predictable and stable plan to help guide our work. The budget is written in the first year of the cycle, with the second year providing a much-needed opportunity to assess the programs being administered by the county. In the second year, we can also make minor, mid-course adjustments and address emergencies.
A two-year budget would also help county staff manage and complete infrastructure and criminal justice projects, and update policies that guide development. This will be important as we help facilitate future projects such as the Belfair Bypass and a potential new jail.
By making this change, we would join Washington state and nearly fifty cities and counties already using a two-year budget – including neighboring Thurston County.
Adopting a two-year budget will not put more money into the county’s bank account. However, it will give us the opportunity to plan for Mason County’s future.
Most importantly, it will give us the chance to evaluate how we are managing and spending your hard-earned tax dollars.
In the coming weeks, I will be working with county elected officials, department heads and the public in an effort to move this proposal forward. I welcome your comments, concerns and ideas.