County budget OKed

The Kitsap County commissioners approved the first biennial budget in county history on Monday, although the historical significance of the occasion was overshadowed by the reality of 4.2 percent in cuts in next year’s operating budget.

The $71.75 million general fund budget for 2003 reflects reductions in county human services programs, about 26 layoffs — including the loss of some extra help employees— and reductions in governmental services.

The $73.3 million general fund budget for 2004, the second year in the biennial cycle, is also a reduction over the $74.4 million 2002 budget.

But there were a few bright spots.

Outgoing Commissioner Tim Botkin said the county still managed to retain its general fund reserve at a healthy level — at about 7.5 percent of expenditures — despite all the cuts.

“That’s admirable in today’s climate,” Botkin said. “While it certainly doesn’t feel good to lay off people to balance the budget, it feels good to have done this right.”

County officials say the reserve is key to maintaining a healthy bond rating and, if necessary, can be tapped for emergencies in the long term.

The county commissioners, at the urging of Botkin, also managed to save the juvenile department’s restorative justice program from the chopping block. The program which, in a nutshell, teaches troubled youth positive approaches to problem solving and attempts to keep them out of the courts and jail, costs $26,125.

The program’s was spared because sales and gambling tax revenues came in higher than expected, as did cable franchise fees.

Property owners can also expect a lower levy rate next year, although that doesn’t necessarily translate into a smaller county property tax bill.

Kitsap County’s regular levy rate dropped to $1.39 from $1.45 for every $1,000 of assessed value, which means the assessed value of properties in Kitsap County increased by more than 1 percent this year.

The levy reflects the county’s compliance with Initiative 747, which caps annual property tax increases to no more than 1 percent, unless constituents approve otherwise.

That 1 percent increase will generate about $200,000 in additional property tax revenues, not counting new construction.

“I encourage people to look at their property tax bill to look at where those revenues go,” Commissioner Chris Endresen said. “It doesn’t all go to the county general fund, but the county collects taxes for all the different jurisdictions.”

Endresen said about 12.5 percent of a property owner’s tax bill goes to the county’s general fund and, if a property owner lives in unincorporated Kitsap County, about 12.5 percent of that bill goes to the road fund.

The owner of a $200,000 home pays about $350 a year in property taxes to the county general fund, she said.

“Compare that to your cable bill,” she said. “That pays for all general fund services such as law and justice, the sheriff’s office, the jail, the clerk’s office and others.”

Endresen said the next budget challenge for the commissioners will arrive next summer, when the state approves its budget.

“We’ll probably have more challenges in July,” she said.

County Commissioner Jan Angel said the commissioners plan to keep a close watch on the budget from month to month.

Also as part of the county’s 2003-04 budget, the county commissioners approved several resolutions Monday in an effort to cut costs, or to increase revenues. They include:

• The commissioners decided to discontinue holding meetings every Monday after the new year. Rather, they will meet every other Monday at the commissioners’ chambers at the courthouse. The idea is to save money and staff time, but the concept could be revisited again next spring if it doesn’t work out as planned.

“I just don’t want it to turn into a situation where we have an all-day long meeting every other Monday,” Endresen said.

Also, with two weeks between each meeting and the timeline associated with publicly advertising, Endresen said she’s concerned efforts could be slowed down considerably.

• The commissioners also approved increases in fees for applications and permits through the Assessor’s office, the Department of Community Development and the Department of Public Works. The increases, overall, are expected to generate $270,000, with a little more than half going to the general fund and the remainder going to the road fund.

• The commissioners also agreed to freeze the salaries of departmental directors and agreed to defer their scheduled salary increases until a salary commission has been created to recommend action. The commissioners would have frozen their salaries outright, but the state constitution casts doubt on how that can be done. To solve the legal conflict, the commissioners deferred their decision.

The savings could reach $51,000.

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