County officials slice and dice budget

"Part one of two partsCounty budget manager Ben Holland grimaced as he brought Kitsap county’s elected officials the bad news. “I wanted to wear a sign with a (picture of a) gun and a bar through it and the word ‘messenger’ underneath,” Holland said.Most of the county officials laughed. When they hunkered down at Long Lake Community Center on Friday to plan the 2000 budget, they didn’t shoot the messenger but they took plenty of shots at each other.The county budget pie will be much smaller next year--Initiative 695 and Silverdale incorporation together took a $3.4 million chunk out of county revenues. So each department head was forced to compete for money in what almost became a competition to see who would sacrifice least.“This is actually a lot more civil than it was last year,” whispered County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido as two officials debated a particularly contentious point. “A lot more civil,” she said again.Four distinct county “clusters” came to the table at the strategic budget planning meeting Friday with varied priorities. From the county Law and Justice cluster, another court clerk and a courthouse facilitator were top priorities--the latter is expected to save judges time by ensuring that people who represent themselves have their papers in order.From the Central Services cluster, the personnel department requested a labor relations specialist to work with the 14 collective bargaining units of county employees, and to deal with any layoffs next year’s budget may require.Prosecutor Russ Hauge asked for a legal receptionist and another deputy prosecutor in the civil division to help tackle the heavy case load. “If anybody questions me on this, you should look in the civil (division of the prosecutor’s) office at 6:30 at night and see how many lights are on,” he said.Treasurer Sharon Shrader joined Assessor Jim Avery in pleading for a Land Information System. By far, this computer database system had the biggest price tag of any department’s request--it costs $642,762 each year for the next five years.Hauge said that system shouldn’t be purchased right away, although the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices both got new information systems this year. “I think your experience is entirely different than ours,” said Shrader, “you bought a package, we’re building a system.” She estimated that the county spends $250,000 each year to repair and hire technical support for their current outmoded system.“But you should look at that $600,000 and say that’s 10 people each year,” said Kitsap County Planning Commission member Carl Walske of Silverdale. He was one of a half-dozen private citizens who joined in the debate.BUDGET PRIORITIESWhen the fiery debate over which department was more deserving died down, county officials took turns listing the following items as priority considerations for the 2000 budget.• Pay for things now that would cost more if the county deferred them.• Review each department’s operating costs.• Keep state-mandated county services.• Purchase technology that would increase employees’ performance without added labor.• Resolve Initiative 695 legal questions about taxing constraints• Consider program termination expenses.• Take into consideration timing and prioritize top issues to present to voters.• Allow revenue-neutral positions and those that help the county to avoid potential litigation.NEW DEPUTIES?The Law and Justice cluster of county agencies requested three new sheriff’s deputies to patrol the county next year, and three more for the traffic division. But these requests didn’t make it to the top of the list during the budget summit.Each new sheriff’s deputy would cost the county $46,164 in salary and benefits expenses, plus another $30,000 for a car and law enforcement equipment. That’s a pretty steep price tag on capital costs for deputies, and Kitsap County Auditor Karen Flynn questioned Undersheriff Dennis Bonneville about the possibility of deputies sharing a car.“There’s an immediate savings but down the road it’s gonna cost,” Bonneville said. The Washington State Patrol has studied the feasibility of the idea, Bonneville said, and concluded that the overall cost of either scenario is about the same.In the WSP study, a car shared by two troopers has a two and a half year lifespan, while a car use by one trooper lasts four years. “The problem is you lose flexibility and availability” of officers, Bonneville said. The sheriff’s department already uses car-sharing sparingly when a car is out of service for repair.Walske suggested that commissioners approve the new deputy program--with a catch. He said commissioners should “defer” hiring the deputies until funds become available or voters approve a tax hike specifically for that program.County Commissioner Tim Botkin said asking voters to approve a tax increase for something they like--more police on the streets--makes sense tactically.“We must factor in the sale-ability of these things for public vote,” Botkin said. “Anything they (voters) don’t understand, we should probably take a higher look at.” Botkin said county officials may want to reorganize budget priorities so voters make funding choices on the most popular programs.Several county officials discussed the possibility of Silverdale contracting with the county for police services. Money from that contract could pay for a number of new deputies in Silverdale, while the current number of sheriff’s deputies would be responsible for patrolling unincorporated Kitsap county.County Clerk Dean Logan worried about the fallout from any potential increase in police activity. More arrests create more work for clerks, prosecutors and judges, which will require more county money to pay for more staff. “Those ripple cost have to be included” in any proposal for more deputies, Logan said."

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