ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission was given a preview Tuesday of the county’s pending $135 million budget for 2021 that includes funds for a new administration building and employee raises.
The 2021 budget is around 1.2% higher than last year and despite some impact from the continuing pandemic, the county overall remains a strong economic engine, Washington County Clerk/Auditor Kim Hafen told the commission as he presented next year’s proposed budget.
The budget’s proposed general fund is projected to be just over $36 million, up around $1.6 million from 2020. The rise is attributed to an increase in the 0.25% sales tax on goods in the county, as well as new growth in property taxes.
Revenue from property and sales taxes and use fees make up the majority of the county’s general fund with property tax projected to be at $10.8 million and sales tax and use fees at $9.7 million. An increase over 2020 of $600,000 and $500,000 respectively.
Due to the increase in sales tax revenue, Hafen said he believes it will soon surpass property taxes as the single biggest source of funding for the general fund.
“That’s coming as this economic engine in Washington County keeps grinding on, even in the face of the pandemic, it’s amazing actually,” Hafen said. “We’ve had a decade of economic expansion and we haven’t seen an end to that yet, even with 2020.”
No tax increases are recommended in the 2021 budget.
Additional highlights of the budget include $25 million that will go toward the building of a new county administration building that is expected to take place in the next year. A new building has been in the works for a long time, and will be built on the corner of 100 East and Tabernacle Street, just west of where the current administration building stands.
A part of the funding for the new building is coming off the budgets of various county departments and entities that will be housed there, such as the county’s tourism office and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve visitor center. These departments and entities will transfer those funds to the county’s capital projects fund.
“This is the single biggest thing in the budget,” Hafen said. “We’ve been taking about a new building for a long time. Some people still think it’s a figment of our imagination.”
Hafen added he suspects the public may begin to see the current building on the corner of 100 East and Tabernacle (the home of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve visitor center until recently) to start being torn down by mid-December.
Other aspects of the general fund included a recommended 4% wage increase for county employees in the new year. As the Washington County Sheriff’s budget goes by the fiscal year, sheriff’s employees won’t see the wage increase implemented until July.
Other expenditures for the new year include the hiring of new two prosecutors for the Washington County Attorney’s Office, two new public defenders and a new bailiff for the 5th District Court. Other projected hires include a new public works employee and a range manager for the county’s shooting sports park.
The largest annual expense for the general fund is public safety – primarily the Washington County Sheriff’s Office – which comes in at a projected $14.9 million, or 41% of the general fund. The Washington County Attorney’s Office comes in at a distant second at $3.6 million (10%).
The general fund primarily covers county administrative costs and services, with a large part of that going to public safety. Additional funds deal with municipal services, county roads, the county library system, convention and tourism, recreation, the county’s Council on Aging and debt service.
A part of the budget that saw impacts from COVID-19 is tourism.
Transient room taxes, also known as TRT, is collected from people staying in hotels and similar accommodations in the county. That revenue source took a hit earlier in the year, yet has since rebounded to a degree, Hafen said.
“We took a significant hit on transient room tax in 2020, although it is rebounding pretty well, pretty nicely in fact,” Hafen said.
The county’s convention and tourism fund is projected to come in at $11.9 million, an increase of around $1.5 million over 2020. The increase occurred despite an estimated $350,000 drop in TRT revenue from the previous year.
Overall, the county is doing well financially, Hafen said.
“We are in good financial condition,” he said. “The reason for that is the commission and department heads treat the money like they are supposed to.”
The County Commission will vote to adopt the 2021 budget in its Dec. 15 meeting. Prior to its adoption, the proposed budget will be available online on the Washington County website for public review.
Ed. note: A photo featuring attorney Edward Flint as an example of one Washington County’s public defenders has been removed due to Flint’s no longer serving in that capacity. The photo was from 2017 and Flint no longer serves in that capacity.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.