Opinion

Kitsap committed to living within its means

Like all families in Kitsap County, local government is not immune to the global financial crisis and is faced with the challenge of balancing our pocketbooks by keeping rising costs in line with incomes.

Kitsap County has worked hard to be excellent stewards of your tax dollars by reducing the cost of government.

The Board of County Commissioners is committed to “living within our means.”

This policy commitment provides residents a fiscally conservative budget that will meet the immediate needs of our community by investing in law enforcement, roads and parks that make Kitsap County a great place to live, while also balancing the budget without relying on reserves as had been the past practice.

We will achieve these goals by not raising taxes during this difficult economic climate.

Over the course of 2005 and 2006, Kitsap County balanced its general fund budget by spending $11 million of reserves.

This deficit was created by expenditures increasing faster than revenues, the main component of which was escalating costs of our workforce.

Starting in 2007, the Board of County Commissioners committed to change this fiscally unsustainable spending pattern. For example, in 2007, the commissioners implemented a hiring freeze and cut $1 million from the mid-year budget.

Additionally, in 2008, Kitsap County adopted a balanced budget for the first time without spending reserves since 2003.

This was accomplished, in part, by working collaboratively with unions, employees and insurance providers to reduce the escalations of healthcare costs to taxpayers.

With the current economic climate, the county is looking to cut nearly $6 million from our 2009 budget.

One area the commissioners are looking to reduce spending is the rising personnel costs.

In an effort to slow down this growing trend, two weeks ago, North Kitsap Commissioner Bauer and I voted to cut the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) by 50 percent for approximately 400 non-represented employees.

This reduction provided much needed savings for 2009, as well as implementing another step of the commissioners’ commitment to living within our means by being financially sustainable.

We also committed to our employees that department heads and elected officials would take the lead on reducing personnel costs by accepting the same cuts.

In regard to union-represented employees, the county is entering into the final year of a three-year contract that was approved in 2006 that included a 4 percent COLA increase in 2009.

The commissioners cannot unilaterally change these terms without consent of the unions.

We have directed our labor negotiating team to work with these bargaining units on ways to reduce personnel costs for 2009.

Through a combination of these measures and much more, the county is moving in the right direction. Our goal is to provide the best county government in Washington state.

These difficult economic times result in reductions in services we may have provided in the past.

However, the economic slowdown also provides the opportunity for us to look at ways we can be innovative to meet the needs of our community now and into the future.

Josh Brown is the

Central Kitsap Commissioner.

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