Kitsap County isn’t immune to economic woes

The U.S. economy seems to be struggling, and all of us in Kitsap County aren’t immune to the economic downturn.

Unbelievable fuel prices are affecting all of us. Who would have thought we would be paying almost $5 a gallon for gas?

The housing crisis has also hit the county. The inventory of unsold homes is increasing, sales are down, prices are static or declining and there are an increasing number of foreclosures.

Unemployment in the

county mirrors Washing-ton state’s numbers and is at a recent historical high.

Clearly everyone is affected by and suffering from the economic downturn. The county is no exception.

The county worked hard to balance the budget for 2008 without eating into reserves — for the first time in many years.

Early this year, staff advised us that the real estate excise tax (a tax on property sales that we use for parks and other projects) receipts were coming in significantly below budget.

That will impact future capital projects.

In mid-June, the board of commissioners was told sales tax collections are also down. At this point, we could be facing as much as a $2 million shortfall this year.

It is a big disappointment after working so hard last fall to balance the budget.

In addition, we’re looking at a further $2 million shortfall going into 2009. I’ve believed for some time that the county’s financial problems would continue, and this is proof.

The board will take action now to protect a balanced budget for this year by making cuts and freezing positions. We plan to balance the budget for 2009 again without eating into reserves and without tax increases.

The Citizens Budget Committee has been convened to advise the county and citizens on ways the county might respond to its long-term financial problems. That committee is working hard, and you can find information about its members and activities at www.kitsapgov.com/boards/citizens_budget.htm.

We will be surveying residents about their ratings of county services and sense of county priorities this summer as part of the committee’s work.

The county will look this year at the costs of serving Silverdale and some of the other unincorporated areas in the county versus the revenues they generate.

This is important information for the citizens contemplating incorporation of the Silverdale area. It is also important for the county as we contemplate life after incorporation if Silverdale becomes a city.

The results of these studies will help the Citizens Budget Committee and the county look at long-term options for county services.

Meanwhile, thanks to Rep. Christine Rolfes, the county and Kingston representatives are working with Washington State Department of Transportation staff to look at how to reduce the impact of summer and weekend ferry traffic on downtown Kingston.

WSDOT has been extremely helpful and we are looking at some innovative solutions to the problem.

Finally, I want to remind you about the upcoming Great Peninsula Future Festival to be held Aug. 2-3 in Port Gamble.

This will be the first countywide sustainability festival in Kitsap County. There will be great entertainment, food and crafts for all ages.

But the basic purpose of the festival will be to help all of us learn ways to save money, strengthen our local economy and protect Puget Sound and Hood Canal by reducing energy use, buying local products and using “green” building materials and other products.

I hope you will put it on your calendar and plan to be there. It promises to be a great event.

North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer can be reached online at sbauer@co.kitsap.wa.us or by calling (360) 337-7146.

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