Opinion

Let’s see how serious Kitsap County is about budget cuts

Do you not find it interesting that success in balancing a county budget merits rave reviews, but having to dip into reserves to balance a budget is not appropriate for critical comment?

The basic premise must be that, during times of economic prosperity, simply doing what you get paid for is meritorious, while in crunch times, trying hard, regardless of outcome, is all that is required.

Sorry, commissioners, not in my world.

Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown cites “escalating costs of our workforce” as a primary reason for budget problems.

I would agree that approving raises for elected officials and pay increases for union and non-union employees while average taxpayers are faced with personal financial shortfalls would create a budget problem.

Certainly it creates a family budget problem for average taxpayers. That the commissioners were able to “negotiate” a reduction in COLA increase to just 50 percent is offered as a budget cut.

Commissioners, if you are limited by law (not Initiative 747) to a 1 percent annual increase in revenues, how can you afford 4 percent or higher pay increases?

What school of economics did the commissioners attend?

There is also the issue of reduced revenues creating the problem. In fact, the issue is reduced sales tax revenues.

Property tax revenues will not decrease. The very same commissioners who approved and adopted planning policies that would drive us out of our cars and onto mass transit are now upset when gas tax revenues are down because of fewer car miles driven.

At the same time, the mass transit system they have so heavily favored and pushed on us is in serious financial difficulty even though ridership is up.

Of course we probably should not mention the ferry system debacle that consumes more and more of our dollars while providing less reliable service.

Maybe it is not revenue as much as poor spending habits.

The commissioners have also identified the slowdown in the housing market as a contributor to the financial difficulties of the county.

They may be right, but not for the reasons they would offer.

County policies have continuously increased the cost of homes in the county without adding any value to those homes.

It is estimated that the average home in Kitsap has a hidden cost of over $100,000 directly attributed to government regulation.

In an effort to increase productivity of the permit processing by the Department of Community Development, the commissioners enacted North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer’s Enterprise Fund for the Permit Division and significantly increased permit costs.

In less than seven months, the Permit Division costs outstripped revenues and layoffs were required.

In fact, the fund effort started out at least $1 million in arrears and it appears that deficit grew to about $2 million.

Hard to tell with the way we do accounting.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Enterprise Fund failure is that the people who write and interpret the ordinances and regulations that have driven up the cost of housing remain fully employed while those who were paid for by permit fees are gone.

Once again the “priorities of government” envisioned by our commissioners are not the same as those expected by the taxpayers.

One of the most depressing revelations is the concept held by the commissioners that “reserves” are to support continuation of services during fiscal downturns. Most of us thought that the only rationale for collecting more taxes than required to operate government was to establish an “emergency response” fund to cope with natural or man-made disasters.

An economic downturn is neither, unless government desires to take credit for a manmade disaster.

Apparently we have delegated authority to our commissioners to collect taxes well in excess of need so that can have a “safety cushion” for future needs.

Are not these the same commissioners who complained loudly about the past practice of dipping into reserves to pay the bills and championed themselves as the saviors who ended that dreadful practice.

It really is getting hard to tell the “white” hats from the “black” hats when the definitions and rules change so frequently.

It is past time for our county commissioners to recognize that government was created for the sole purpose of completing only those functions that we, as individuals, could not complete ourselves.

Public safety, roads and bridges, basic land use, and basic public health are the responsibility of county government.

Government cannot afford to fund programs to make everybody happy, nor is that the purpose of government.

Now is the time for our commissioners to return to the basics, scrap the programs and costs that are not the delegated responsibility of government, and restore logic and common sense to fiscal management.

We can only hope for change.

Jack Hamilton is a Silverdale resident.

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