County says it might have to cut jobs

Kitsap County’s budget crisis has taken a personal turn, as administrators attempt to implement the necessary labor cuts that will prevent the county from going broke.

“We will need to cut back in the personnel area,” said Administrative Services Director Ben Holland, who is heading the budget efforts. “No department is immune.”

Holland said that two-thirds of county’s budget is devoted to personnel. While cuts can be made in supplies and other costs, sooner or later people will need to be let go.

Within personnel costs, two-thirds of the people work in law and justice. Again, Holland said, cuts will eventually need to be made in the most important areas. The county can finesse one-third, but will need to eventually cut in public safety areas.

The commissioners have already had two budget strategy sessions with elected officials and department heads, and are in the process of determining a way to evaluate who may be expendable.

“No one can run a personnel-intensive business with just a 1-percent-per-year cost increase and expect it to succeed,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer. “Every department will make a compelling case for their own programs, and they will be correct. But we have to be fair.”

As directors look to their own departments for places to cut, they may have trouble finding unnecessary expenditures. Said Assessor Jim Avery, “Of all the programs that we have in the county, I can’t think of one that should be cut.”

Auditor Karen Flynn said many of the functions of her office are required by law, and therefore cannot be cut. And Don Burger of the Treasurer’s office said, “I don’t know where we would start cutting. Right now, whenever someone calls in sick we have to scramble in order to serve our customers.”

Decreased customer service seems to be the area that will become most noticeable to the general public. Generally, wait times for permits and other services could increase.

Facilities, like courts in Poulsbo and Silverdale, may close, forcing North County defendants to travel to Port Orchard for trial.

The commissioner’s office has already notified one front desk employee that her job may not exist at the end of the year. Under this scenario, receptionist and phone duties will be redistributed among other staff members.

“We will all have to absorb these cuts,” said County Administrator Nancy Buonnano Grennan. ”In this case, it was determined that each commissioner needed a full-time assistant who will cover the desk when needed. Customers will not get the same level of service.” 

While the county has resolved to trim about $4 million, these actions will not eliminate the likelihood of a voter-approved lid lift in 2009.

The voter-approved Initiative 747, which passed in 2001 and limits property tax increases to 1 percent per year, was cited as the reason for the current budget crisis.

After the measure’s passage, the county continued to offer the same programs but dipped into its reserves to pay for them.

“If we had cut the programs when the measure was passed, we would not have to be so drastic now,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “And the public would understand the situation.”

Added Bauer “It’s unfortunate this wasn’t addressed in the past. As a result, they are dramatic, and the process seems more draconian than it would have been had we started earlier.”

The largest cuts will be personnel-related, resulting in the phasing out of jobs that are determined to be nonessential.

The approximately 1,100-strong county workforce has already gotten the message about the cuts, with many employees becoming apprehensive about their own positions.

“Everyone should be nervous about their jobs,” said Administrative Assistant Carolyn Siems. “We will not be able to do business in the same way we did before.”

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