Kitsap County to cut millions — 2012 already crimped

Kitsap County commissioners have started the task of squeezing $2.4 million out of their general operations budget, which has seen nothing but cuts since the recession caught counties across the state off guard in 2009.

The Board of County Commissioners last week sat for budget request briefings delivered by department heads as part the 2012 general fund budget preparation. A total of 19 departments asked for a combined $81,302,402 for 2012 operations covering everything from  public health, to the court system, to the transmissions in county vehicles.

The requested amount surpasses the approved 2011 budget by $600,000.

Commissioners say the total revenue expected for 2012 continues to decline and is expected to be  $78,921,443 – leaving a $2.38 million gap for the BOCC to close in order to balance between department wants and reality.

Where the cuts will come from no one will yet say.

BOCC chairperson Charlotte Garrido said she’s not yet drawn lines of protection around any budget, including the Sheriff Office’s which faces the loss of nearly $1 million in revenue, at the same time years of off put maintenance costs have come due.

“There will be some budgets cut,” she said.

County Commissioner Robert Gelder said that several departments had already seen enough cuts in recent years, such as the auditor’s and treasurer’s office along with coroners office which he says is a  “24/7 operation” that has been cut thin enough.

“The coroner can’t be cut anymore,” Gelder said.

With the announcement last week of an additional state budget shortfall estimated to be $1.3 billion, the county can expect additional cuts from the state as well.

But for now the county will proceed based on the revenue numbers given by department leaders and the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, Garrido said.

“Clearly the state will make reductions that will effect us,” she said.

Garrido said commissioners and budget staff spent this week working with Excel spreadsheets cutting one budget to see the potential effects across the board. They’ll continue moving budget reductions around county departments to try to find the best and most efficient places to cut, she said.

In a February 2011 memo, county commissioners warned  employees that every budget cycle “from now on” will require cuts. Revenue can never keep up with “our growth for ongoing expenses,” said the commissioners.

Between fiscal year 2008 and February 2011 the county cut 150 positions from the total 1,600 employees and cut hours for another 180.

Back then, the commissioners said status quo budgets would not cut it in 2012, yet at the same time announced that the assessor, treasurer and auditor budgets had been cut to “virtually unsustainable levels.”

No department presented a 2010 budget with significant cuts on their own. Nearly all were “status quo.”

Gelder said that a few departments have asked for a little less that the in 2011, such as the County Commissioner’s budget which asked for $1,000 less in 2012, he said.

Departments are projecting less revenue and therefore asking for less to begin with, commissioner Josh Brown said.

Commissioners say the largest among the general fund expenses is “law and justice.” Though no single budget contains “law and justice,” it is generally comprised of the sheriff, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, the county clerk and the local juvenile system.

Past cuts to the county law and justice system included $100,000 in sheriff department uniform expenses and $160,000 in overtime cuts. The prosecutor’s office cut $500,000 from public defense expenses in 2010 and cutting staff in the district court netted $200,000 savings, according to the commissioners memo.

Garrido say they add up to about 70 percent of the sought $79 million budget.

Last week the director of Kitsap County Parks and Recreation revealed that about 13 percent of every parks employee’s hours during a calendar year actually go to support the Kitsap County Fair and Stampede.

The translated salary and wages equal $236,000, according to James Dunwiddie.

The fair and parks each have separate budgets, but with the knowledge of the additional costs in support from taxpayers, Dunwiddie said the fair did not actually pay for itself.

To contextualize, the annual maintenance budget for all the property covered by the department is $1 million, Brown said. He said his choice between a years worth of work and maintenance for the entire parks inventory or five days of county fair, will be easy – cut the $236,000 in support to the fair.

Brown,  Gelder and Dunwiddie said the previous parks director never broke down  the numbers far enough to see the parks money leaking into the fair indirectly.

None have said how the cuts the indirect support of the fair would look like or be structured, but Gelder said he thought the money was on the table.

Dunwiddie Wednesday said he doubted he could cut hours by 13 percent, but that the commissioners would decide.

Another fair related efficiency to be discussed is the hours of police presence required for an event of such size, Gelder said.

“It’s a huge impact on the Sheriff’s Department,” Gelder said. “There is a cost associated with no recovery.”

Brown last week said cutting the first million from the balance gap will be the easy part. “Low hanging fruit” he called it without giving specifics.

“The last million is going to be very tough,” he said.

The county is already “lean,” Garrido said. “It means we look across the spectrum and think creatively.”

One perspective on the commissioners concept of balance comes with the county’s $120,000-a-year contract with a lobbyist to push Kitsap County government needs and wants down in Olympia.

Brown said it’s worth renewing because John McBride is working to get the county more flexibility with less state oversight while also obtaining more in direct services. McBride was worth the money because he’s brought $3 million in additional state funding to Kitsap County, Brown said.

With the goal of having a solid budget for public comment by early December, Garrido said “a lot of discussions” would occur during the coming weeks.

The cuts will materialize by Oct. 10 as the BOCC deliberates on a preliminary budget.

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