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County commissioner candidates face daunting tasks

Looking ahead to the likely problems facing the Kitsap County Commissioners makes one wonder whether any large number of people would want to file as candidates.

So far, two have announced their candidacies for the two positions up for election this year.

The deadline for filing as a candidate is still several weeks away, so there could be more who want the job despite the county’s fiscal problems — or maybe even because of those problems.

In good times, when revenue is rising each year, the job of county commissioner probably looks attractive to more people. The chance to do more of one thing or another while in office gives the office holder the ability to choose what to add.

Since the housing bubble burst, revenue has been falling rather than rising, so doing more has been mostly out of the question.

Instead, how to do less or somehow cut expenditures while not doing less has been the question for the past few years.

The most recent budget update contains no reason to believe the situation will change in the near future, so those who dream of doing more probably wouldn’t want the job.

With the likely chorus of criticism about any choices the commissioners make, we need candidates who are attracted to the task of problem solving and who have thick skin.

It will be interesting to hear the chorus this year, when the current commissioners decide the amount of compensation for the two commissioner positions elected in November.  The public reaction may tell us something about the general mood.

The pay for each of the coming four years has to be set before the election, and it probably has to be reduced down to the pay being received by the third commissioner who isn’t up for election. Anything else could leave the commissioners with little political leverage in other cost cutting.

One might think that cutting the pay for an elected position would be welcomed by virtually everyone, but it won’t be surprising if there are folks who complain that the cut isn’t enough.

It won’t be long until the county must face the unpleasant task of paying the remaining debt on the Harborside condominium project in Bremerton. That’s new spending, but not the kind that candidates dream of doing.

If revenue were rising, adding that debt payment to the budget wouldn’t be much of a problem. Spread over a number of years, the bite would be small.

But when revenue is stagnant or even falling, every little bite hurts.

Silverdale voters may take the risk and incorporate a new city, thereby taking a substantial part of the county’s revenue.

Even the most enthusiastic problem solver might hesitate to take on the task of reducing county expenditures after Silverdale incorporates. It isn’t likely that the county can balance the budget simply by shifting responsibilities and costs over to the new city.

Binding arbitration to set the compensation of county jail personnel may add higher costs that commissioners cannot avoid.

With the likelihood of reduced revenue from the state for the jail’s operations, the commissioners wouldn’t find it easy to fund the needed level of jail capacity if personnel compensation costs go up.

There are probably more looming budget problems, maybe even some that no one has seen coming.

If the two incumbents and the two challengers who have announced their candidacies aren’t joined by others who want the job, it shouldn’t be a surprise.

People who hold or seek public office usually want to talk about making the future better. New trails, parks, services, etc., are much more fun to contemplate than reducing one expenditure after another.

But our immediate future involves pressing budget problems that are no fun to talk about or deal with.

Perhaps we should establish a “kind word box” rather than the more typical suggestion box at the county seat.  Whoever wins is probably going to need occasional encouragement.

Columnist Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

 

 

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