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Sheriff's office and justice system to see cuts in 2012

The sheriff's office, prosecutor's office and jail will have to eliminate positions to maintain a budget next year aligned with Kitsap County Commissioners' preliminary 2012 budget. For the prosecutor's office and jail, that means the loss of some positions that are currently filled.

A total of $2.3 million was cut from the county's general fund budget to match the projected revenue for 2012.

"The budget is balanced and almost $50,000 can go toward funding other services or building a preserve in 2012," said Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown.

The community will be able to discuss their opinions on the preliminary 2012 budget at a public hearing at the next Board of County Commissioners meeting Monday, Dec. 28. Commissioners will adopt the budget in December.

The county's preliminary 2012 expenses budget is $78,599,002 for a total of 19 departments, reduced by about $1.5 million from the 2011 budget. With an expected loss of revenue countywide — revenue for 2012 is estimated at $78,648,837 with the 2011 budget revenue at $80,66,300 — cuts had to come from the departments.

Since 2008, cuts have been made to the prosecutor's office budget every year. In the most recent iteration, Kitsap County Prosecutor Russell Hauge said about $220,000 was cut from his budget.

"The problem is that [with] the county's general fund, most goes to the justice system," said Hauge, adding that it makes sense that cuts would have to be made there as well.

Brown said more than 70 percent of the county general fund budget goes toward the criminal justice system.

Half of a deputy prosecutor position and one victim witness support position will be eliminated, at minimum, due to the loss of money to the prosecutor's office, Hauge said. His office will undergo reorganizing with the net loss of two support staff positions.

All of the cuts that they anticipate for 2012 will come from criminal operations. Aside from the criminal operation, the prosecutor's office is made up of child support — which is completely state-funded — and a civil division.   "We are very fortunate for the last several years that the number of cases has been pretty stable," said Hauge.

The number of criminal referral activity was at 12,793 in 2001 and 12,509 in 2006.

Last year, the number was at 11,348. The workload has been consistent for the past 10 years because there hasn't been an increase in the number of criminal referrals, Hauge said.

However, if more cases were to come in, there could be a problem.

In 1995 when Hauge first took office, he said there was an uptick in cases — they coincided with the number of methamphetamine cases.

Because the drug is now manufactured in Mexico and Canada rather than locally, there is less criminal activity in the county. If there is a similar uptick in crime related to another drug or something else, numbers will go up, he said.

Hauge said another issue his office faces is when homicide cases come in all at once. About six months ago, there were 10 homicide cases pending all at once, he said.

Aside from the position cuts that the prosecutor's office will have to undergo for the 2012 budget, Hauge said expedited plea cases will continue next year.

Expedited pleas were started 2010 for lower level felonies to be charged as misdemeanors if the offender has no significant criminal history and pleads guilty at the first opportunity.

Handling the cases as a misdemeanor rather than a felony is less costly. For misdemeanors, the cases don't go to trial and the offender isn't in jail for as long of a time, Hauge said.

There were a total of 75 of these expedited cases in 2010, 60 of them being theft incidents.

"They are not being punished as the law says they should be. We simply cannot afford it," said Hauge adding that the program would be turned around if and when there is money available.

Since 2009, 10.4 full-time positions have been cut from the prosecutor's office. Hauge said he knows his office isn't the only one one having to do the same amount of work — or more — with less.  Kitsap County Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville said the sheriff's office has submitted a budget to the county that removes four deputy sheriff positions. With a few retirements and an individual who went to another agency, the four positions are currently vacant, he said.

"We have no other places to cut without laying anyone else off," Bonneville said.

The reason no actual layoffs will occur is because the county commissioners allowed for the movement of $250,000 from county road taxes — public works money — to the sheriff's office, Bonneville said.

The jail, which has a separate budget from the sheriff's office, will also make cuts to meet the budget.

A vacant position at the jail go unfilled and two corrections officers will be laid off, Bonneville said. One medical worker on a graveyard shift was also eliminated, he said.

"That's where we are at and where we are staying for the moment," Bonneville added.

The sheriff's office is discussing with patrol attendants to determine if any adjustments will need to be made to schedules. Bonneville said they are figuring out if it will be necessary to change the current 10-hour swing shift to an eight-hour swing shift. He said one concern with the change is that overtime hours may increase.

Since 2008, the sheriff's office has lost 37 positions, including 13 deputies which could've filled one watch section.

Bonneville said response times to calls have gone up by a third.

Calls are ranked on a priority scale of one through four with one having the highest priority. A few years ago, it took 6 minutes to 6 minutes, 30 seconds to respond to a priority one call.

"It's been pretty rugged," Bonneville said. "But, we will continue to provide the best service we can. We're not going to let ever-diminishing resources be an excuse."

The juvenile system will have a cut of about $85,000 from its 2011 expenses budget. The district and superior courts will also have to make cuts. In addition to the legal system and crime departments, other departments in the county are trying to make ends meet.

Jim Dunwiddie, director of parks and recreation, said he will cut $11,000 from the county fair budget as well as a clerical position, which is currently not filled. Horseshoe Lake County Park in South Kitsap will continue to be open on a limited schedule, he said.

With the work of volunteers and stewardship groups, county parks are able to be maintained and managed, Dunwiddie said. In 2007, the department recorded 26,000 volunteer hours and this year the number is projected to be about 52,000, he said. Dunwiddie added that his department will go through restructuring in order to absorb the cuts.

However, while some departments can be supported through volunteers, not all can rely on that. If the county continues to struggle economically, most offices and departments don't know what else they can eliminate.

"We're really cutting into the bone now," Hauge said.

 

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