News

Sheriff’s office hit hard by county budget cuts

By CHARLIE BERMANT

Kitsap County writer

Like many other county departments, the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office has expressed public support for the recent budget-cutting process. Within this, the sheriff has warned of dire consequences if the money is not allocated in the near future.

Furthermore, the cuts put the department in the running to become “the lowest staffed agency in the country,” according to a written statement by Sheriff Steve Boyer.

“The sheriff’s department has taken a significant hit during the (budget) process,” Boyer said in a letter delivered to the county commissioners by chief of corrections Ned Newlin on Wednesday. “Increases in population and calls for service would mean increases of three deputies per year to stay even.”

Boyer was referring to the recent budget action, where three retired or resigned deputy positions were not filled. He added that without an increase in 2007 or 2008 the department will actually be down nine deputies “resulting in fewer deputies to respond to 911 calls for help. The loss of two support services positions further exacerbates the problem.”

Boyer supports his “lowest staffed” statement as follows: Washington state is 48th out of the 50 states in investment in law enforcement. And the county’s .75 deputies per 1,000 population is almost the lowest in the state.

Boyer said that his department is stretched to its limit and cannot take any more on without any additional resources. He admits that he has said this for a while, and doesn’t necessarily see a “breaking point” anytime soon.

“It’s unfortunate that major events are often the only things that stir people into action,” Boyer said. “But it is my preference that we put our heads together and deal with this before we have a cataclysmic event.”

Even so, he isn’t sure what more the department can do. Two years ago, county voters defeated a law and justice levy that would have given the sheriff and the prosecutor needed relief.

“We saw this coming,” he said. “We favored a levy before the situation became critical. But we were lambasted for trying to think ahead.”

Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said relief shouldn’t come from the voters. Rather, the state should allocate the funds for the law and justice functions it requires the counties to provide.

“The state of Washington needs to pick up the slack,” Brown said. “If we got $8 million from the state we would have more to spend on prosecutors and parks.”

“A lot of these unfunded mandates are good ideas,” Boyer said. “I’m in favor of increasing observation of sex offenders and keeping drunk drivers in jail for a longer time. But all of this costs money.

“We’ve put too much into this to go backward now,” he said. “But it is becoming increasingly harder to meet citizens’ expectations. It’s taking us longer to respond. We will always get there but it takes longer. And this emboldens the criminals.”

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