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Administrative Services Director: Real budget work at county just beginning

By CHARLIE BERMANT

Kitsap County writer

The Kitsap County government spent most of 2007 examining budgets, streamlining functions and making deep cuts. While this was a complex process the real work is just beginning, according to Administrative Services Director Ben Holland.

“Now that the budget has been approved we go into the process of executing the plan,” Holland said. “I have made a report of what the 2008 budget is, and have sent it out to all the department heads and their budget assistants.”

Even so, the 67 percent of the operating budget that is devoted to salaries can be hard to predict. At the beginning of the year an office may be budgeted for a certain amount of employees on specific pay levels. In February someone may quit and the job stays vacant for two months. After that time the supervisor may find the perfect candidate, and hire them at a higher grade than the original employee.

This, according to Holland, requires a balancing act. During the time the position is vacant the salary is not being paid and goes back into the general fund. When this money is amortized during the rest of the year it may cover the pay grade increase.

Additionally, the vacancy period may require other departmental employees to stretch their jobs or work overtime — influencing operations and affecting budget.

“Costs for equipment are easy to predict,” Holland said. “At the beginning of the year you know how many cars you are going to buy. But you can’t always predict who is going to resign and what it will take to replace them.”

As a result, offices are usually allocated 96 percent of what it will cost to run at full strength, with many departments running below that level. In cases where personnel costs are at a higher percentage the money is reallocated from another department.

The 2009 budget process, to begin in the spring, will rely on the projections drawn from the personnel level. About $4 million was cut from the 2008 budget, during which time county officials that another $2 million will need to be cut in 2009. Holland now says the level of necessary cuts won’t be determined until the spring.

“We don’t have the final numbers from 2007 yet,” he said. “We want to make sure that we have that data before we make a projection.”

Of the data, Holland said “it changes before we even start. People come and people go, and sometimes we guess wrong about how many people will be working at a particular time.”

Currently, about 7 percent of jobs are vacant at the county. Many of these will not be filled because of the budget-cutting process.

Holland said the county is prepared for the next round of cuts.

“Future cuts will be more difficult because we will have less to choose from,” Holland said. ”At the same time they will be easier because we have already made substantial cuts.”

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