Opinion

Kitsap County continues sound fiscal policies in 2009 | Cmsr. Josh Brown

DISH FROM THE COMMISH

Like all families in Kitsap County, local government is not immune to the global financial crisis and is faced with the challenge of balancing our pocketbooks by keeping rising costs in line with incomes. Kitsap County has worked hard to be excellent stewards of your tax dollars by reducing the cost of government. The Board of County Commissioners is committed to “living within our means.” This policy commitment provides residents a fiscally conservative budget that will meet the immediate needs of our community by investing in law enforcement, roads and parks that make Kitsap County a great place to live, while also balancing the budget without relying on reserves as had been the past practice. We will achieve these goals by not raising taxes during this difficult economic climate.

Over the course of 2005 and 2006, Kitsap County balanced its general fund budget by spending $11 million of reserves. This deficit was created by expenditures increasing faster than revenues, the main component of which was escalating costs of our workforce. Starting in 2007, the Board of County Commissioners committed to change this fiscally unsustainable spending pattern. For example, in 2007, the commissioners implemented a hiring freeze and cut $1 million from the mid-year budget. Additionally, in 2008, Kitsap County adopted a balanced budget for the first time without spending reserves since 2003. This was accomplished, in part, by working collaboratively with unions, employees and insurance providers to reduce the escalations of health care costs to taxpayers.

With the current economic climate, the county is looking to cut nearly $6 million from our 2009 budget. One area the commissioners are looking to reduce spending is the rising personnel costs.

In an effort to slow down this growing trend, two weeks ago, North Kitsap Commissioner Bauer and I voted to cut the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) by 50 percent for approximately 400 non-represented employees. This reduction provided much needed savings for 2009, as well as implementing another step of the commissioners’ commitment to living within our means by being financially sustainable. We also committed to our employees that department heads and elected officials would take the lead on reducing personnel costs by accepting the same cuts.

In regard to union-represented employees, the county is entering into the final year of a three-year contract that was approved in 2006 that included a 4 percent COLA increase in 2009. The commissioners cannot unilaterally change these terms without consent of the unions. We have directed our labor negotiating team to work with these bargaining units on ways to reduce personnel costs for 2009.

Through a combination of these measures and much more, the county is moving in the right direction. Our goal is to provide the best county government in Washington state. These difficult economic times result in reductions in services we may have provided in the past. However, the economic slowdown also provides the opportunity for us to look at ways we can be innovative to meet the needs of our community now and into the future.

Kitsap County approves 2009 road projects

At our Nov. 10 Board of County Commissioners meeting, we took action to formally adopt our six-year Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). TIP is the formal plan for capital road projects that will be pursued by Kitsap County Department of Public Works. Many of these major road projects will take place in Central Kitsap next year. In total, $7.67 million is projected to be spent on Central Kitsap projects in 2009. These projects include, but are not limited to:

• The completion of the Waaga Way Extension Road.

• $2 million to complete the reconstruction of the Chico Way Bridge.

• $2 million to improve the intersection of Bucklin Hill Road and Tracyton Boulevard by adding a turn lane and a left turn channelization pocket.

• $365,000 to add a turn pocket to Anderson Hill Road at Apex Road.

Chico Creek ribbon-cutting ceremony

Kitsap County will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of a restoration project on Chico Creek at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 21. Chico Creek is home to the largest chum salmon run in the west Puget Sound. Kitsap County is committed to restoring the lower portion of Chico Creek to ensure the stream continues to thrive for future generations. This 500-foot restoration of the creek runs through the Kitsap Golf & Country Club, a supportive and instrumental partner of this project. The project was funded from a grant received by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board in the amount of more than $300,000. This is a great opportunity to take your families to see the salmon run. We hope to see you there!

Josh Brown is

the Central Kitsap

commissioner.

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