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Holland won’t leave Kitsap County in dutch

Ben Holland, Kitsap County’s Administrative Services director and budget guru, is scheduled to retire next month. - Charlie Bermant/ Staff Photo
Ben Holland, Kitsap County’s Administrative Services director and budget guru, is scheduled to retire next month.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/ Staff Photo

Kitsap County government will miss Ben Holland. But life will go on.

“We have already gone through all the stages of grief,” said County Administrator Nancy Buonanno Grennan. “He will be very difficult to replace. We have county employees who have named their kids after him. He has been an amazing force.”

“His institutional knowledge is virtually irreplaceable,” said IT Director Bud Harris. “He knows exactly how all these budget procedures work. And on a personal level, Ben is a father figure, a grandfather figure. He is a gentle, genuine person.”

Holland, 62, will retire this week as Administrative Services director, a post he has held for four years. Previously he was Kitsap County budget manager from 1994 to 2000.

In between his county stints, he was the director of the Port of Brownsville.

After his retirement, Holland, who lives in Poulsbo, expects to “take care of a few projects around the house” before enrolling in courses in Spanish and creative writing.

Recently, he has become known in two areas. In the face of a budget disaster —?one that Holland had warned about for years — the county actually balanced its budget for the first time in a dozen years.

While this was a team effort, Holland can take much of the credit for marshaling the troops.

Over the past few years, Holland developed discussion of county finances called “Property Tax 101.”

First shown to the county commissioners, he has presented the program about 100 times to diverse crowds of varying sizes — including regular updates at regular county commissioner meetings.

Other gatherings were more intimate, including one occasion that drew a single spectator.

Holland then gave a more personal version of the speech.

“It can be easier to understand this topic in a one-to-one situation,” he said.

“I’ve strived to be transparent,” Holland said. “I’ve worked hard to explain county finances to the public. In this age of information there is more public awareness about finances, and the data that we are able to present today is certainly different from what we were asked to provide in 1994. There is more information, and it makes us more accountable.”

“Part of this has to do with efficiency,” he explained. “An information request filed 10 years ago might take weeks to fulfill. Today we can just push ‘print.’”

Throughout, the real challenge has been to maintain services in the face of declining resources.

“We’re still facing rampant increases in energy, retirement and medical benefit costs,” Holland said. “Everyone else is facing that, too. But a utility can approve an increase and pass it on to their customers. We don’t have that ability, to pass on the cost of our increases onto the public.

“We depend on property taxes and sales taxes for our revenue,” he said. “Unfortunately, one is limited and the other is not doing as well as we had projected.”

Holland has served under a variety of county commissioners with different views and agendas, but said they “have all been reasonably visionary. Not only are they trying to make the county run as smoothly as possible, they are trying to ensure that it is a good place to live in the future.

“The county commissioners I have worked with have all been willing to stick their necks out,” Holland said. “There is no doubt that it is the hardest job in the county. As a result, they deserved my best efforts to support them.”

Grennan said that about five candidates have been selected from the initial application pool. She hopes to get them all to visit for interviews during the first two weeks of June, at which point they will meet the commissioners staff, and elected officials with whom they will be working.

Grennan said she expected these meetings to be private, as personnel matters fall outside of the public meeting law.

A public retirement celebration will be held for Holland from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on May 30 in the commissioners’ chambers, Port Orchard.

This is Holland’s last official day, but he expects to stay available for the next few weeks in order to help his replacement get up to speed.

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