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County department heads want more flexibility with budgets

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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County Commission listens to budget manager's pitch

Following what has been a tenuous first half of Mason County's fiscal year, the county's department heads are lobbying the Mason County Commission for more flexibility in 2016's budget.

In December, the commission passed a two-bottom-line budget with the intention of creating fiscal accountability from all county departments.

On Monday, various department heads gathered in the county commission chambers to listen to budget manager Frank Pinter give a briefing on a new idea that would give them more flexibility.

The proposal would allow department heads and independently elected officials to move a certain amount between the two lines without asking for the commission's approval.

This year's $101 million budget passed with a salaries and wages bottom line and an operations bottom line. In previous years, department heads were free to move unused wages and benefits money into operations to cover unexpected costs.

A resolution passed alongside the budget requires department heads to go to the commission for approval if they want to transfer money between the two lines.

On Monday the magic number was $20,000 that could go between the two lines without approval from the commission.

Because the Mason County Sheriff's Office has the largest budget, Pinter proposed that it would be allowed $50,000 in flexible funds.

"The bottomline budget authority (of the commission) does not change nor does the overall accounting of the budget," he told the county commission. "It is just the dollars between the salaries and operations and the allocations of the adopted budget (that) segregated it."

The proposal would amend December's resolution aimed at increasing budget accountability.

During Pinter's pitch, Commissioner Tim Sheldon asked if it would make more sense to have the floating amount be a percentage of the specific department's budget.

"Some departments are small, some departments are big," he said.

Pinter said he would look at the idea.

"That makes it a little complicated to manage because of different calculations," he said. "The sense that I've gotten is $25,000 is a number that is large enough for the smaller departments that would be probably sufficient to cover whatever exigent circumstance that might occur."

Mason County Auditor Karen Hen said she is in favor of the concept, but the process could use a little more work.

"It is going to be very laborious," she said. "That is something that we are going to have to work out the details."

In an interview with the Journal on Tuesday, Pinter said he will refine the idea and bring it back to the commission in a future briefing.

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Original Publication Date: April 28, 2016

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