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County budget crunching underway

Kitsap County’s budget review committee swung into full gear this week and will continue to meet on a near daily basis leading up to a budget open house from 2 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 19.

The hearings and open house are a chance for the Board of County Commissioners and the public to hear from each of the county’s various departments regarding  their 2013 budget requests. Back in July, a budget call letter was sent to department heads that noted an $11.5 million reduction in revenue over the last five years.

“While 2013 does not promise much improvement, all indicators point toward stability,” wrote Amber D’Amato, the county’s director of administrative services. “Sales tax dollars are coming in steadily and are no longer in the downward spiral seen from 2007 through 2011. Our Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) fund continues to survive and meet obligated debt service requirements in the near term, but with no additional capacity for any new projects.”

Commissioner Rob Gelder said this week that the financial situation may be stabilizing, but the county isn’t out of the woods.

“In my opinion, what we’re projecting isn’t enough to say we’re back to five years ago,” Gelder said. “We’re still, if anything, looking to move forward without having to have for the first time a conversation about cuts in a number of years. So, let’s be responsible about what we do. What can we build back to that we haven’t been able to do previously?”

Gelder said the budget hearings will be an opportunity hammer out details and have candid conversations about department budget requests for 2013 following the July call letter.

“When people submitted their final budgets, some people took that as an opportunity or a signal that they should ask for more, which is fine,” he said. “That’s part of the process and what we’ll be going through as part of the budget hearings. We’ll be saying, ‘Okay, what are you asking for, because you have to be able to justify it.’ “

Two budget requests that are sure to get considerable attention in the coming weeks and months are a $934,133 increase from the sheriff’s office and a $226,000 increase at the auditor’s office.

The sheriff’s office is seeking the additional money to pay for equipment upgrades at the jail, including the LiveScan system used for fingerprinting suspects at a cost of $191,000; $50,000 worth of renovations at the sheriff’s Silverdale office; reclassifications and raises for several employees; an increase in medical costs for inmates and kitchen upgrades at the jail; and more.

Calls to the sheriff’s office and auditor seeking comment on their budget requests were not returned.

The increased request from the auditor is in large part a reflection of the desire to hire a county-wide internal auditor, a move that has been talked about at the county’s finance committee.

“I think it’s a good role to have in any large organization,” Gelder said of having a county-wide internal auditor. “When you have so many systems and processes and everybody’s kind of doing it sort of differently, to have one point of contact to be able to look at that and review it and say where are the efficiencies we can get and where are some of the systems maybe not working, could be a good thing. What are we doing well and what can we do better?”

Gelder said that while having a county-wide internal auditor might make sense, it could be a tricky position to establish.

“That position would report to one separately elected official and the question is how would they relate to all of the other separately elected officials?” Gelder said.

So far, the plan appears to have the new position be part of the auditor’s office, but report directly to the county’s finance committee. The auditor is also asking for an additional office assistant for the pet licensing program.

 

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