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County budget cuts draw criticism

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners held a special meeting Monday night that included a public hearing to collect comments on the county’s 2009 preliminary budget, which cuts nearly $6 million from its general fund.

“We have created a responsible plan that balances the county’s responsibilities with the funds that are available,” said Shawn Gabriel, director of administrative services, explaining that the estimated shortfall in funds for next year jumped from $1.8 million to $5.9 million “in a matter of months.”

Gabriel said that the county began taking steps to bridge that gap in June, asking all departments to cut spending by 2.2 percent to make up for a nearly $2 million loss.

However, as new numbers came in that tripled the gap, Gabriel said more measures were taken to reduce spending, such as delaying technology initiatives and software replacement, reducing overtime pay to staff along with their travel, per diem and training budgets, and cutting amounts given to “outside agencies” by anywhere from 2.2 to 100 percent.

“Which means that some agencies will not be funded at all,” Gabriel said.

At least two agencies that currently receive funding from the county addressed the commissioners Monday night, asking that their funding not be cut.

“We are here to throw ourselves at your mercy,” said Mark Williamson, president of the Kitsap County Historical Society and Museum’s board, explaining that 18 percent of the society’s budget comes from the county each year. “A cut would be really devastating to us.”

“Our facility is truly a public service,” said archivist Carolyn McClurkan, describing how local students and residents depend on the facility when researching local history and family trees.

Wendy Miles, the director of the Customized Training, Military and Continuing Education program for Olympic College’s Small Business Development Center, said the county should not cut funding to the center because it has received a “250 percent return on that money.

“Your investment is returned in the taxes businesses pay,” Miles said, describing the center as helping “150 businesses a year on average,” and without such help, “statistics show that 70-80 percent of small businesses fail.”

Sheriff Steve Boyer, whose funding has been trimmed two consecutive years pending passage of the 2009 budget, then addressed the board.

“I’m not here to ask for more money — although I’d like to — but to say thank you, because looking at you, I can see that it hurts,” Boyer said. “However, I’d like it to hurt a little more.”

Boyer went on to describe his world as one that deals with people in crisis, and where crimes and missing children cannot be scheduled.

“We’ve got to be open 24/7, and my top priority is the physical safety of all the county’s citizens,” he said. “With all due respect to the budget constraints, this will have ramifications, and it worries me a great deal that I will have to look a parent in the eye and say that we failed.”

Board president and North Kitsap Commissioner Stever Bauer thanked Boyer for his comments.

“This reminds me and the rest of the commission that we don’t work alone, but have numerous partners that help us,” Bauer said. “This is the second year in a row that (Boyer) has reductions in his department, and a lot of other sheriffs wouldn’t be so polite.”

Resident Jim Sommerhauser suggested that instead of looking solely at cuts, the board consider asking certain groups to pay for extra services that the county provides for events.

“During festivals such as Whaling Days and the Blackberry Festival, the county has staff close roads, direct traffic and supervise parking,” Sommerhauser said. “If you’re going to have a festival, you’re going to have to take on those costs.”

The public hearing was then closed, with Bauer explaining that the board would accept written comments though Dec. 12, with final action on the budget expected to be taken at its Dec. 22 meeting.

A full copy of the preliminary report can be found on the Kitsap County Web site at www.kitsapgov.com/das/

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