I thought we’d balanced Kitsap County’s books

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, Jack Hamilton, a Silverdale resident, former candidate for Kitsap County commissioner and current chairman of the Kitsap County Republican Party, argues the county’s budget problems are the fault of the county commissioners, who were unwilling to make difficult financial decisions.

Once again, Kitsap County finds itself in the midst of a “budget crisis.”

Seems like just last November our commissioners were busy patting themselves on the back because they had a balanced budget.

Now, the truth be known, we discover what they gave us was just one more spending plan with spending limited to projected revenues. We also know that “spending plan” and “balanced budget” are not the same.

Now revenues are down and we’re in a “crisis.”

Apparently the commissioners don’t understand that falling tax and fee revenues have the much greater implication of lost revenues and wages for businesses and employees.

People are hurting and the commissioners are worried about their revenue stream.

The commissioners apparently do not appreciate that the greatest part of the economic downturn in Kitsap can be linked directly to poor government decisions.

In order to balance the 2008 budget, for example, the commissioners created an Enterprise Fund for a part of Department of Community Development and moved that part off-budget.

At the time, the commissioners were told there was a projected $1 million shortfall in Enterprise Fund revenues, but they assured us all was well.

The Enterprise Fund DCD was to have the flexibility in staffing to be responsive to actual work demands.

Apparently none of that was true.

Development permit requests are down and the Enterprise Fund DCD is about $1.2 million short after eight months.

Now DCD is overstaffed for actual requirements and negotiations with the unions are required to reduce staff.

Instead of direct reductions in force that were part of the Enterprise Fund creation, we’re now looking at solutions that include reduced working days and days off without pay.

With either of those solutions, the unnecessary employees remain on the payroll and are covered with full benefits. Apparently the commissioners are still having some difficulty understanding that government does not have a primary role of secure full-time employment for some.

Perhaps the commissioners might take a timeout to investigate the cause and effect of economic difficulties in certain segments of the community.

First they might look at the impact of the regulations they’ve enacted in Planning Policies, Comprehensive Plan, Building Codes and the Critical Areas Ordinance on the health of the local housing market, the affordability of housing and the overall impact on our economy.

Our commissioners might also take a hard look on the impact of county regulations and economic-related decisions on economic development and overall economic health of the community.

In both cases, they will find a clear negative impact.

Is there any doubt at this point that the building moratorium imposed earlier this year was not good for the economy?

If our commissioners had actually produced a balanced budget that reflected the responsibilities of the county, they would have reduced spending to the minimum necessary to meet essential services as specified by law.

In addition, all budgeted expenses would be ranked under a system of priorities of government with public safety ranked No. 1.

Under a true balanced budget, in the event of a revenue shortfall, the only available actions would be to reduce lower priority services or increase revenues.

While dipping into reserves might solve the problem, using reserves for non-emergency purposes defies the reason for reserves.

The across-the-board hiring freeze that has been implemented does not fit within either of the proper budget response actions. Once again we get knee-jerk reactions instead of well-planned and well-executed fiscal management.

We’re all aware that the commissioners have established a Budget Advisory Committee to help sort out how to spend our money. Perhaps if we followed the law and used the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office as the proper check and balance in the budget process we wouldn’t need citizen committees.

When are the commissioners going to start actually creating a real budget and work on how to not spend our money?

Based on the salaries the commissioners are drawing (not to mention their pay raise), it would seem the least we could expect is that they actually do the job we hired them to do.

Perhaps the first responsible corrective action right now would be to rescind all county pay raises and benefit increases.

After all, that’s the effective impact the slowing economy is having on the taxpayers.

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