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Kitsap County achieves budget balance

Following a protracted fiscal battle that has lasted most of the year, the Kitsap County commissioners announced on Wednesday they have balanced the 2008 budget.

"We're living within our means," said Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown. "This is a very significant achievement and we should be pleased we were able to do this. We have brought stability to the county."

If adopted, the preliminary $327.96 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 now viewable on www.kitsapgov.com/das, will be addressed at the commissioners' regular meeting at 7 p.m. on 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.

If the commissioners decide to return a cut position to the budget, such as a deputy sheriff, they will need to allocate the money from some other source rather than rely on a funding source.

"We have reserves," said County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan. "But we will not use them to cover shortfalls in the general fund."

The preliminary $328 million Kitsap County budget includes expenditures for:

• special revenue funds — $122,801,253 (specific programs and services such as emergency management, mental health and central communications);

• general fund — $87,617,666 (mandatory and elective services including public safety, law and justice, parks, general government, community programs and all elected offices);

• enterprise funds — $69,215,321 (operations financed and operated similar to private non-profit businesses);

• capital project funds — $16,671,589 (Finances county buildings and renovations, such as the new Administration Building);

• internal service funds — $20,472,529 (costs of services and goods used internally between county departments);

• and, debt service funds, $11,183,329 (interest payments on bonds and other financial obligations).

Beginning this spring, the county determined the need to trim $4 million from its general fund. It accomplished this through a combination of spending cuts, efficiencies and funding reductions of 33 staff positions. It also saved more than $500,000 by eliminating the projected 18.8 percent increase in healthcare costs to zero percent – or no increase – in health care through successful labor/management negotiations.

The county also received higher than projected revenues.

Over a series of meetings, each department appeared before a budget committee and worked to meet their own specific cost-cutting goals — to either cut a proscribed number of full-time employees (FTE) or save the equivalent cost of their salaries.

According to Grennan every department met its goal.

A total of 33 positions were cut. Law and justice was hit hard, losing three deputy sheriff positions, three high-ranking officials in the probation department and half of a deputy prosecutor position.

"We don't have a choice about these cuts," Brown said. "But as our county grows we won't be able to respond to this growth the same way we have in the past. There will be more cases for each prosecutor, and more people per deputy. We will have more work to do, bit with the same amount of money and the same number of people."

As for a levy lift, Brown said there are no plans to go to the voters to request a higher property tax rate. He will, however, attempt to convince the state to pick up the tab for an increasing amount of unfunded mandates imposed by the legislature.

"Local governments are being forces to live within a certain revenue

stream," he said. "But the state keeps imposing new costs. The legislature isn't providing the support for public defenders, and we are forced to pay for this at the expense of our parks program and our quality of life."

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