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Cowlitz County commissioners approve 2021 budget amendment Tuesday

County Administration Building exterior stock

The Cowlitz County Administration Building is pictured in this TDN file photo in 2018. 

In their first meeting in more than a month, the Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday approved a 2021 budget amendment including unexpected changes in revenue and expenses.

The amendment accounts for about $2.6 million from the state to pay for costs related to the Blake ruling and a one-time allocation of $431,000 for law enforcement and criminal justice costs related to new laws, said Traci Jackson, administrative services manager.

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The Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision in February found Washington’s law unconstitutional because it made drug possession a felony, even for people who did not know they had drugs on them.

In late September, the commissioners accepted an agreement with the state to reimburse the county for costs of resentencing and vacating sentences of defendants whose convictions or sentences are affected by the Blake decision. The agreement also includes up to $578,660 in reimbursements to refund fines to defendants.

The amendment adjusts the budget to show the $431,000 state allocation coming in and being used to buy camera vests and vehicle cameras for the Sheriff’s Office, Jackson said.

The amendment also includes the purchase of four deputy vehicles for new positions starting next year, Jackson said. The county moved ahead on the purchase because supply chain issues would have delayed the vehicles arrival if bought next year, she said.

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Additional expenditures include:

  • Third-party attorney fees for the Assessor’s Office to settle land appeals.
  • An increase to the contract with ABM Industry Groups for janitorial services to cover the larger new morgue and Washington State University Extension Office building.
  • Coroner’s Office overtime and supplies.
  • District Court interpreter charges.
  • Personnel cost increases in information technology and purchasing.

The amendment also increases the amount of sales tax revenue passing through the county to the Cowlitz 911 District because the revenue was higher than expected. The 911 district receives a one-tenth of 1% sales tax.

In other business, the commissioners approved change orders for the new morgue totaling about $31,000. Facilities Manager Brad Songhurst said staff are processing another round of change orders for the project, but in general it is on budget and on time.

The commissioners also accepted an $8,000 grant from the state Military Department and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration. The county Department of Emergency Management will use the money to revise its hazardous materials response plan to include updated information about the amount and type of materials moving through the county, said Ernie Schnabler, department director.

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