2019 Unfunded and Under-funded Mandates
Local government continues to be impacted by unfunded, or under‐funded, mandates from state and federal agencies, courts, the State Legislature, and Congress. Reserves that would be used for capital, and technology needs are often compromised and service levels will be reduced in order to meet these mandates.
Washington State Association of Counties has indicated county revenues are not keeping pace with the cost of normal inflation and population growth, in comparison with cities and the state, county revenue growth lags behind.
Counties are tasked with implementing laws and court mandates on behalf of the State of Washington, the State is not assuring counties have adequate resources to perform these responsibilities, leaving the county to pick up the increase costs, In some cases with recent court decisions counties lost revenue from court fines and fees.
The challenging trend of rising costs outpacing the increase in revenue will continue to impact the county. Action at the state level is needed to increase funding for mandated services such as indigent defense, public health services and inmate medical care.
If expenses continue to outpace revenues, counties will be forced to reduce or eliminate valuable services provided to our citizens in the upcoming years in order to preserve the county’s financial health.
Lewis County, like other counties has shifted or diverted Road funds to the General Fund to cover the increase costs of traffic policing and other mandated services in order to meet the demands of providing public services. This has impacted transportation reserves over the last several years.
On the Public Safety side, the Jail continues to see an increase in the cost of providing mandated medical treatment to jail inmates. All counties are required to provide medical care to inmates incarcerated in the county jail. In addition, the United States Supreme Court has held that prisoners have a constitutional right to receive necessary medical care while in custody, while in custody inmates are pulled off Medicaid and the county inherits all the cost of medical care. If a county fails to provide necessary medical care, it could be liable for any injuries the inmate may suffer as a result of lack of medical care. The cost for providing this mandate has increased from $400K in 2014 to over $1.1 Mill in 2019.
Another increase the county faces is associated with providing legal assistance for individuals who cannot afford a lawyer to defend them in a criminal case. If the court finds a person is indigent, it must appoint a public defender or other attorney to represent the individual. Counties often must shoulder a significant financial burden in paying for indigent defense; in 2018, the cost for indigent defense was over $1.8 million.
Lewis County Unfunded and Under-funded Mandates is a working document; The County will continue to add more information as we work through the budget year.