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Kitsap County monitors state budget cuts
DISH FROM THE
As our legislators try to meet the challenges of the state’s budget deficit, Kitsap County is working hard to ensure core programs that protect our community continue.
The state’s $8 billion budget deficit is the equivalent of making cuts comparable to $1,200 per state resident — a daunting challenge. In the face of these challenging times and with a final budget not close to completion, we have our share of good and bad news to report.
Prior to the beginning of the legislative session, drastic cuts were proposed as part of an update to the Washington State Ferry Long-Range Plan. Cutting evening and weekend service, reducing the Bremerton-Seattle run to only one boat and high fare increases were part of an alternative widely discussed. Over the past several months, our legislative caucus, local government officials and community volunteers have been working to improve, not cut ferry service. The recently released transportation budget preserves current service levels and caps fare increases at a modest amount, both major wins for Kitsap County. In addition, our legislators continue to fight for improvements in the ferry building program that will benefit Kitsap County routes.
The proposed Senate budget allocated funding to 30 full-time enrollment equivalencies to Olympic College. In essence, this funding would allow Olympic College to partner with other higher education institutions to provide baccalaureate slots for four-year degrees. The Kitsap Region Higher Education Center Study recommended this element as the next key step to expand baccalaureate opportunities in Kitsap County. Kitsap County has strongly supported this investment and we are encouraging the House to adopt similar funding in its budget to ensure educational opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.
Health and Human Services initiative moves forward
Even with these successes to date, challenges still remain. Based on the budgets released to date, critical cuts to human services will severely impact our community. The House Budget proposes to eliminate local administration of the Developmental Disabilities Program and moves responsibilities of this program to the state as a cost-savings measure. This means a loss of approximately $2.7 million and, more importantly, a huge blow to our very effective community planning efforts to address needs of our residents with developmental disabilities. Not only would this action eliminate local collaborative efforts, it would cut funding support for training, special projects, technical support, community information education and advocacy which have been essential in providing quality services.
The Legislature has proposed significant reductions in funding for chemical dependency treatment programs that will put significant pressure on our local criminal justice and hospital emergency rooms. The cuts, if implemented, would overwhelm our community’s ability to sustain an effective response to the continuing challenges of methamphetamine addiction, alcohol addiction and other substance addiction affecting the quality of life for families in Kitsap County. The closure of the Kitsap Recovery Center would eliminate the only detoxification/crisis triage facility in the Kitsap/Olympic Peninsula and the largest public intensive inpatient treatment program in the state. All of the programs including adult felony drug court, family dependency drug court, outpatient treatment, family education, involuntary commitment and outreach services would be either closing or will marginally function in a fractured system where the ability to coordinate and mobilize the required tools for effective treatment will be absent.
Mental health programs are at risk as well. House Bill 2295 would reduce the number of regional support networks that assist in delivering mental health programs locally. The proposed forced merge of regional support networks will not provide the anticipated administrative cost saving and will have a negative impact on local community-based planning and control. The onerous administrative, operational and financial hurdles that will arise in forced mergers of regional support networks will lead counties to follow the lead of Pierce County and turning all responsibilities back to the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services. This would result in reduced ability to meet local needs for mental health programs and the risk of increasing administrative costs. The current administrative expenses of our local regional support network are less than 2 percent. It is difficult to visualize how the state proposal will achieve greater client services with reduced administrative expenses.
Kitsap County will continue to work with all of our partners to ensure core programs that enhance public safety and protect the vulnerable in our community are preserved. These challenging economic times remind us all that government faces similar pressures during recessions as do individuals and small businesses.
Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown appears in the CK Reporter the second Friday of every month.