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County facing major budget cuts

Every county in the state faces a budget shortfall, but that was no comfort to Kitsap officials who announced their own cuts at a somber meeting Sept. 3.

In 2003, county officials must trim 10 percent from the General Fund budget of $65 million, and an additional 5 percent in 2004, according to Commissioner Tim Botkin.

The shortfall was blamed on lower sales tax revenues, on tax-cutting initiatives such as I-747, and on higher employee insurance rates.

During the meeting at the Givens Community Center, County Administrator Malcolm Fleming said officials would try to minimize the impact on specific departments by implementing “systemwide cuts.”

Nonetheless, individual county departments will face cuts.

Kitsap County prosecutor Russ Hauge said he would have to essentially eliminate the special sexual assault and drug unit, as well as cut six deputy prosecutors.

“We’ll have lost all the progress we’ve made,” Hauge said.

His sentiment was echoed by Bert Furuta, Kitsap County personnel and human services director.

The Human Rights Commission’s hours would be cut, legal advocates for domestic violence victims would be eliminated and several youth programs would be scaled back or eliminated.

Sheriff Steve Boyer announced he would have to trim 21 employees, including 19 deputies, and scale back the capacity of the jail expansion from 275 to 190 beds. The Kingston office would likely close.

“The public can expect to see an increase in response time,” Boyer said.

Ned Delmore, director of the juvenile justice department, worried that the security of staff and kids would be risked by budget cuts. On the chopping block are five detention officer positions, a truancy specialist and a court services position.

“We’ll do everything we can to preserve people’s safety, but we’re on the edge with this,” Delmore said.

Complicating matters, several county offices, including the coroner, treasurer, assessor and the auditor, have functions mandated by law, making cuts almost impossible.

Many agencies proposed raising fees or taxes to cover the shortfall, and commissioners are considering filing a petition to lift the cap on property tax increases, said spokeswoman Terrie O’Neill.

“They have to decide at the end of September whether it will be on the ballot,” O’Neill said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Jan Angel said state residents have sent a message by voting for tax-cutting initiatives that they don’t want new taxes.

“We can’t keep expecting revenue to come from property tax,” she said.

Wages can’t be cut, Angel said, because they must be negotiated with unions. She stressed the importance of eliminating non-essential programs, and criticized the state for sending unfunded mandates to the county.

“If we want an event in this community, it has to pay for itself,” Angel said.

Earlier in the meeting Fleming proposed cutting a fund for “unanticipated expenses,” used to put on events like the Kitsap Rally held after Sept. 11, 2001 and the recent broadband summit at the Admiral Theatre.

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