News

County cuts 33 positions to help balance 2008 budget

By CHARLIE BERMANT

Kitsap County writer

Kitsap County effectively balanced its 2008 budget last week, making the necessary cuts for it to live within its means for now.

But along with the sense of accomplishment felt by all involved, there also is the realization it won’t be long before the process begins again.

“I’m happy that we balanced the budget,” said Administrative Services Director Ben Holland, who led the process. “But I don’t feel good about cutting a lot of needed positions.”

Holland said he attended more than 20 meetings with various department heads and elected officials, noting that all of the meetings were open to the public.

Holland said that removing the Department of Community Development (DCD) from the general fund and into its own cost center helped balance the budget, but he added the DCD’s internal budget also is balanced.

Now that the initial process is over, Holland said the next step is to make financial projections for the next six years. He explained this is done “pragmatically, examining each program as a whole instead of the individual line items.”

Still, the county may need to cut as much as another $2 million for the 2009 budget.

In all, 33 positions were cut. Among the unfunded positions are the public information officer/policy analyst position in the county commissioners’ office (now held by Clarence Moriwaki), three deputy sheriff positions which were unfilled due to resignation or retirement and four positions in the probation office.

District Court Administrator Maury Baker said he anticipated the downsizing in the probation department and compensated for the possibility in a recent reorganization by not filling currently vacant positions.

“We saw this coming,” Baker said. “We are already working with less expense, but our service will improve. We expect we can hold our charges more accountable with less people.”

Baker said the recent move of the Probation Department into offices adjoining the District Court made this efficiency increase possible.

The Prosecutor’s Office will remain at its current strength, but Prosecutor Russ Hauge said there is no wiggle room for an emergency.

“I’m happy that we are able to maintain our current position,” Hauge said. “Our referral rate has remained stable, but we’re just keeping up. If there’s a blip or we need to handle two large cases at once there will be real problems.”

Hauge says the state needs to take more responsibility.

“The state needs to provide more stable funding to the county for law and justice services,” he said. “Right now, the only things it pays are half of my salary and the judge’s salaries.”

If adopted, the preliminary $328 million 2008 Kitsap County budget will be the first fully balanced budget in more than a decade and the county will have no budgeted deficit.

This follows a cost-cutting trend in Kitsap County, which reported a record deficit of $7 million in 2005 followed by $5.7 million in 2006 and $6.4 million in 2007.

The preliminary budget, which is on www.kitsapgov.com/das, will be addressed at the commissioners’ regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, in their chambers in Port Orchard.

Public testimony will be taken at that time, with the final approval action scheduled for Dec. 17.

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