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Statement on budget offered by former county budget director

 


Saturday, July 25

Former Klickitat County IT and Budget Director Glen Chipman today made a detailed statement on the county budget. It follows recent public discussion about whether or not the budget is balanced, with sharply differing views on the matter between candidates for County Commissioner Position 3 Jim Sizemore (incumbent and states the budget is balanced) and Dan Christopher (insists the budget is not balanced).

Friday Christopher sent critical messages to The Sentinel after its article ran online fact checking Christopher’s three-page campaign letter. (One of those messages was posted on The Sentinel’s Breaking News page.) Another message took issue with the article’s conclusion that the budget was most likely balanced; Christopher wrote, “A three-second search on Google will tell you what a balanced budget is.”

While Chipman’s statement does not overtly state whether or not the county budget is balanced, it provides deeper insight into the nature and complexity of the budget. Chipman concludes with an appreciation for The Sentinel’s “efforts to fact check and provide the community with solid information.”

Following is his statement:

As the former Klickitat County budget officer for 24 years, I have found two main sources of information helpful in navigating the mazes of governmental processes, particularly the budgetary and other financial processes, which are different than private sector or home accounting. First is the State Auditor's Office, which is charged with establishing accounting guidance and auditing the financial books of all taxing entities in the State, including the state departments, counties, cities, school districts, PUD's, etc. The BARS Manual (Budgeting, Accounting and Reporting System) is their main reference to help keep financial records as similar as possible across the State. The second source is the MRSC (Municipal Research and Service Center) which provides assistance to local governments and maintains a vast amount of information available through the internet at http://www.mrsc.org.

In discussing the county budget, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Here are a few:

1. Budget terms, like many words in the dictionary, may have multiple meanings depending on the context of their use. Humans receive and interpret communications based on their own personal life experiences, education, work experiences, etc. Terms like budget, reserves, balanced budget, deficit spending, etc., easily lead to different interpretations or understandings.

2. The Klickitat County budget is actually a composite of over 30 individual funds that each have their own detailed accounting of beginning/ending fund balances, cash balance, expenditures, and revenues. The General Fund is further divided into over 20 'departmental' budgets. (In budgeting terms, a department may not have staff or physical office space tied to it -- it may be a specific function area that requires its costs to be tracked separately, such as the LEOFF Disability Board, or it may cover the general costs shared across multiple departments, such as the Non-Departmental 'department' budget.)

3. The county budget (or financial picture) is like a big jigsaw puzzle, only the pieces are not static. The picture is constantly changing. It is officially adopted in December each year but then typically amended three or four times a year through a supplemental budget public hearing process. Almost weekly during their regular meetings, the Board of County Commissioners discusses various topics and makes decisions that affect the financial position of the County.

4. The term County Budget can be defined narrowly as the resolution adopted that sets the annual limit on expenditures for each department and fund (a 'fixed budget' based on the expenditure side of budgeting) and then amended via a supplemental hearing process -- or it can refer to a set of documents used to determine and then monitor the financial activities of the County which may include for Klickitat County the budget adoption resolution, property tax adoption resolutions, the Budget Summary document, the appendix with line item detail of revenues and expenditures by fund and department, the Board's notebooks used during the budget development process containing the budget requests from the departments, the six-year capital improvement plan, and the fund balances booklet containing a 10-year history of each fund, and an overall total budget section. You can read the table of contents (resolution) or the whole set of books depending on how much of the budget story you need/want to know.

5. Reserves may refer to various things in governmental accounting. Each fund has its own reserve(s). In the case of Klickitat County, these are generally accounted for as beginning and ending fund balances -- basically the fund's financial position as of Dec. 31 and as of Jan. 1. These are not the same as the fund's cash balance. Cash balances are constantly changing, like your personal banking. What the ATM says is your current balance (cash balance of moment) does not account for any checks you've written or deposits you've made that haven't cleared the bank's records yet). Since the County can still process payments in January for the prior year, the cash balance of the fund will not equal their beginning or ending balance unless there have been no transactions processed in January that affect cash. Some funds may have restrictions placed on the use of its reserves for some future activity which disallows their use for other county activities. Overall, the County has over $20 million in “reserve” accounts. The Cumulative Reserve Fund has over half the reserves which are to be used for specific purposes, including about $6 million set aside for emergencies. The remainder can be used for Economic Development, community development, capital improvements, or emergencies. The Cumulative Reserve has mostly been funded from landfill revenues and a small portion from the State’s portion of the sales taxes for Economic Development.

Hopefully, this provides some insights and facts about the Klickitat County budget… This letter was prepared on my own initiative, time, and resources without any solicitation from any campaign or individual, as I recognize the need to have clear information in the community about the County’s budget. I appreciate the newspaper's efforts to fact check and provide the community with solid information.

Glen Chipman,

Former Klickitat County IT & Budget Director

 

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