Voters will decide county tax increase

It appears Kitsap voters will decide on Nov. 5 whether they want slightly higher county property tax collections to preserve $1.2 million in county services and positions that would otherwise get the axe.

Kitsap County Commissioners Tim Botkin and Chris Endresen approved a resolution on Thursday that allows a county property tax lid lift measure to appear on the general election ballot this November.

County Commissioner Jan Angel of South Kitsap was not present at the special meeting.

The deadline for submitting such a measure was Friday, Sept. 20.

“It would be irresponsible of us not to give the voters a chance to say yes or no,” Botkin said.

The measure being proposed for the ballot would ask Kitsap voters to approve spending an additional 7.5 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value on their properties to preserve $1.2 million in county services and positions.

The proposed levy amounts to an additional $15 a year on a $200,000 home in Kitsap County.

Voters would thus restore many services among nearly all of the county departments next year:

l $110,00 to retain one District Court probation officer and one court clerk for the Poulsbo annex;

l $273,000 to preserve three deputy prosecutors in the prosecutor’s office;

l $30,000 to restore one clerk for the Treasurer’s Silverdale satellite office;

l $105,000 to restore funding for the Department of Community Development’s Poulsbo annex, and one planner for Silverdale;

l $224,270 would be saved for General Government services, which would preserve an internal auditor, monies for economic development, the county’s youth risk prevention program and to restore one-half of the funds cut from public health services;

l $111,000 for the Juvenile Department to restore one detention officer and one probation officer; and,

l $350,000 for the parks department for capital maintenance expenditures and to restore 3.5 maintenance workers.

November ballot measure aside, $3.8 million in cuts are being proposed for the county’s 2003 operating budget anyway.

The 2002 county operating budget is at $74.6 million.

But if voters turn down the property tax lid lift in November, those cuts to county services would grow by $5 million.

The county’s current budget problems are blamed on a number of unfunded state mandates, on recent voter approval of tax-cutting initiatives such as I-747, and skyrocketing employee medical insurance rates.

County property tax collections are confined to annual increases of no more than 1 percent unless voters approve otherwise because of last fall’s approval of Initiative 747.

“I-747 allows citizens to vote on a property tax increase,” Botkin said.

It was determined earlier this year that some cuts are necessary to maintain the county’s general fund reserve at 7.5 percent of expenditures. The fund balance must be healthy for the county to maintain its high bond rating.

Already the county has imposed efficiencies wherever possible to achieve savings.

For instance, a policy was established to use county vehicles 20 percent longer, the retirement schedule of computers has been extended a year and office supplies and copiers will be shared more among departments.

While many cuts have been “painful,” there are still many services and positions that are safe from the chopping block, including sheriff’s deputies and the 28 additional corrections officers that need to be hired over the next year to operate the expanded county jail, as well as staff in the prosecutor’s office and parks, and funding for Urban Growth Area community councils, to name a few.

“These were difficult decisions to have to make,” Endresen said. “I truly wish we didn’t have to cut staff, but we can’t balance the budget without cutting staff.”

“As we talked about these cuts, we milked every revenue source we could to keep many of these services alive,” Botkin said.

Several citizens who attended the special meeting on Thursday voiced opinions.

“We’re all getting the pinch,” said Bob Lamb of South Kitsap. “Don’t put this on the ballot.”

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