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County braces for budget cuts

The Kitsap County commissioners met with senior staff and elected officials on Monday, presenting criteria for cutting programs and underscoring the necessity of cutting nonessential programs.

“There is still a lot of nitty-gritty work to be done,” said County Administrator Nancy Buonnano Grennan. “And the board of commissioners is anxious to get started.”

All department heads will have until mid-August to submit their cost-cutting proposals.

Among the budget-cutting criteria established at a retreat last week:

Direct services should receive priority over administrative functions, mandatory services are prioritized over discretionary services.

Raising fees is better than cutting services and there should be different service levels for rural and urban areas.

Additionally, the county needs to recover full costs of all contracts with other jurisdictions and not establish any new programs unless they are mandated or completely self-supporting.

County expenditures have been progressively over budget in the past few years but have been covered by surplus. This surplus is shrinking and will be nonexistent by the end of 2008 according to Administrative Services Director Ben Holland.

The county is taking a view of the overall budget rather than instructing each department to cut a specific amount.

“I’m glad that we aren’t requiring each department to cut the same percentage,” County Clerk Dave Peterson said. ”It does the citizens justice. It is more difficult to accomplish but works out better in the long run.”

If the county makes the required cuts, it will continue to face a budget shortfall, since the mandated 1 percent property tax increase cap does not keep pace with inflation.

County Assessor Jim Avery said that the county will need to revisit the issue if Silverdale is incorporated, since this would shrink the property tax base.

Grennan acknowledged this, but said Silverdale's incorporation will lessen the county’s load in certain areas.

Holland said that even if the county gets creative in its budget cuts it will be hard to avoid layoffs.

Some of the suggestions emerging during Monday’s session:

Avery suggested that some departments establish 36 hour work weeks, or four nine-hour days. The hourly pay will be the same as well as the benefits, but the county will save on hourly pay.

“There are quite a few employees in my department who would like to do this,” Avery said.

Grennan said ratcheting down the insurance service levels will save money. Even with this, the service still looks good and can be used as a recruiting tool.

The county is looking at the fee structure in the Department of Community Development and considering raising several fees. This will turn the department into a cash-generating entity.

Removing grants from the general fund and putting them in a separate fund. This will provide a more accurate picture of how much money actually belongs to the county.

Once the first wave of cuts is implemented, the county may go to the voters for a levy lid lift. Holland said he does not want to take this step until the county has proven it has cut everything possible.

Many “discretionary” programs serve as an investment in the future, since money spent today means a higher amount won’t be required at a later date.

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