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County officials warned to brace for budget cuts

In order to prepare all departments for inevitable budget cuts, the Kitsap County commissioners will host a working lunch meeting at 11 a.m. on April 30 during which they will outline new criteria for determining such cuts.

“We will have to make some service levels decisions,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen. “And we will need to explain to the public why we are doing these things.”

The question facing county government is which services (and, by extension, personnel) can be eliminated or reduced.

Property taxes, which are limited to a 1 percent increase a year, do not keep up with inflation. After this year’s series of cuts, the inflation that prompted them will continue to stretch resources. At that point, the county will need to go to the voters in order to approve a property tax increase.

Administrative Services Director Ben Holland has repeated a cost-cutting mantra for several months, underscoring that the county cannot continue to spend money at a faster rate than revenues accrue.

Holland has recommended that all departments work together to cut $2 million annually from the county’s total budget — effective immediately.

While all county employees feel the pinch, some departments have said they have already cut as much as possible.

In a letter to County Administrator Nancy Buonanno-Grennan, Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville said the only thing his department could cut was a citizen’s academy program — essentially a public relations effort to connect people and police.

Bonneville’s letter underscores a similar situation as in many other departments. He said the sheriff could cut funding to the Citizens on Patrol (COP) volunteer program, but that would leave a service shortfall the department would then have to fill. This, he said, would cost the department $200,000.

The idea of “pay now or pay later” is also a common theme. Public Works Director Randy Casteel said small cuts today can result in dramatically higher repair costs at a later date.

Another example is the Drug Court. The program could be cut, but for every dollar spent, it reportedly saves $10 in law enforcement and penalty expenses.

Auditor Karen Flynn said some services have a domino effect. If her office is slow on entering property transactions, it can affect the lending market and, by extension, the county’s economy.

At a retreat on Tuesday in Bremerton, the commissioners and staff approved a list of criteria for determining what programs can — and cannot — be cut or eliminated. These guidelines include:

• Direct services should receive priority over administrative functions. For instance, in juvenile court a staff reduction would favor caseworkers over administrators.

• Mandatory services are prioritized over discretionary services. If there are no alternatives to a service — such as permitting or police — it takes priority over something that may be available elsewhere.

• Regional services have priority over local services and unincorporated services have priority over in-city services. If something (like a local park) is close to the city or within its limits it could be cut.

• Raising fees is better than cutting services, and increasing efficiency is prioritized over service reductions. If a program benefits a specific user, that person may be required to pay for the service. And the county can possibly consolidate support staff for different departments.

• The county should recover full costs of all contracts with other jurisdictions.

• Set different service levels for rural and urban areas. This doesn’t carry a qualitative aspect, only sets a different expectation level for those who live outside a population center.

• Do not establish any new programs unless they are mandated or completely self-supporting.

• Re-examine capital budget projects and make investments that will yield a return in one to three years.

“There is the idea there is all this fat in the government budget,” said county spokesman Clarence Moriwaki. “But this budget has already gone through liposuction. We will need to cut into the muscle.”

The meeting will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 30 in the commissioners’ chambers in Port Orchard. The meeting is open to the public but lunch will only be served to the participants.

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