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Spokane County to eliminate all vacant positions, identify additional budget cuts

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(The Center Square) – Spokane County is anticipating tax revenue shortfalls into next year, which county officials say will require eliminating all currently vacant positions and identifying other cuts countywide.

The Board of County Commissioners made its intention to cut the positions and other items clear after sending a letter to each department head and elected officials earlier today. The move comes as the county enters its 2025 budget process, which will wrap up in December.

The commissioners cited three priorities they plan to reflect throughout the process:

The safety of Spokane County residents and businessesEfficiently providing services throughout the countyLong-term sustainability

However, tax revenues are failing to keep pace with the county’s growing general fund costs, leading to an expanding structural imbalance in addition to inflation and other pressures, such as salary increases.

Spokane County is limited by state law on how much it can increase its property tax rate, with the maximum hike set at 1% annually. Still, the commissioners noted that they expected an overall increase in sales tax revenue.

While the county budgeted a 2% year-over-year increase in sales tax revenue for 2024, it’s only at 0.9% right now, less than half of what its budget office anticipated. On top of that, the county does not expect new growth in the 2025 sales tax budget, according to the letter.

“Continuing to operate exactly as we do today is not possible. Increased staffing costs, inflation, and the need to maintain appropriate reserves all add to the cost of doing business,” the commissioners wrote in the letter. “… With that in mind, please note that the 2025 initial General Fund budget will load all authorized FTEs that exist as of June 17, 2024; however, all vacant FTEs will be unfunded.”

The Board of County Commissioners provided an option to request a reallocation of funding for any positions removed but did not elaborate on whether it would accept every appeal. The letter also failed to estimate how many positions were cut and how much that would save the county.

The Center Square reached out to Randy Bischoff, Spokane County’s senior director of Finance & Administration, who said the county would have more data on those positions and the corresponding savings next week. However, he did not clarify if the county anticipated a deficit.

Rather, Bischoff said the goal is to obtain a balanced budget by eliminating vacant positions and controlling expenses.

In addition to cutting all vacant positions as of yesterday, the commissioners asked each department to identify and propose a list of cuts as they prepare their budget priorities. The county asked for all identified capital requests through 2030 as part of those priorities as well.

“We are encouraging departments and offices to identify new approaches to delivering services that may lower costs through improved efficiency,” the commissioners wrote.

According to the letter, other cuts could include enforcing a one-device policy and eliminating discretionary spending on travel, training, conferences and general supplies.

The deadline to submit the 2025 budget entries and identified requests for the six-year Capital Improvement plan is Aug. 2. The county will begin entering those submitted ahead of time starting next week.

“After receiving submitted budgets from County departments, Budget Office staff will compile the information to share a preliminary budget with the Board of County Commissioners and County departments the first week of September,” the commissioners wrote.