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Poulsbo police union questions city layoffs, deputy chief to resign

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Police Officers' Association is challenging a plan to eliminate several city jobs, and has released an independent analysis of the city's budget situation that suggests layoffs aren't necessary.

Members hope their findings encourage city leaders to take a second look at staffing cuts.

The findings are outlined in a Sept. 2 letter from labor attorney Christopher Casillas of Seattle-based Cline & Associates. It comes after Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson's announcement that no involuntary layoffs will occur to balance the 2011 budget.

Instead, 13 employees applied for a Voluntary Separation Program, including Poulsbo Deputy Police Chief Shawn Delaney. So far at least nine of those employees, including Delaney, will receive increased incentives to leave their jobs, which will not be filled.

Delany's resignation cancels plans to cut one officer from Poulsbo's ranks.

Either way, the reduction is a concern to the officers' association, which filed records requests with the city to conduct its own financial review.

Members believe layoffs are premature, and the city's budget shortfall estimations — between $750,000 and $1.2 million before layoffs — aren't solid enough to justify proposed cuts.

Cause for concern

Poulsbo Police Officers' Association President Dan LaFrance worries not just about his department, but departments city-wide, as each depends on the others.

"You cut and cut and cut, every department in the city is going to bleed and bleed and bleed," he said.

Last year two officer positions were left vacant and a 5 percent budget cut was instituted across the board. The police department lost its School Resource Officer program and K-9 program, as well as membership on the countywide S.W.A.T. team and WestNET Drug Task Force.

The department employs 15 police officers.

Recent cuts at the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office mean Poulsbo officers will have fewer intradepartmental resources and less back-up in situations which arise "nearly daily," according to officers' association Vice President John Halsted.

"We're down to the point where we feel we can only be reactive," Halsted said.

Andy Pate, an 18-year Poulsbo officer, said he currently schedules two or three patrolling officers per shift, but may have to reduce that to one. That hasn't been the case since Poulsbo's population was 3,400 — a number more than doubled now.

He worries response times could increase from two to five minutes to upwards of 30 or 40 minutes.

"That's unthinkable, really," Pate said.

Running resources low can be costly. When one or two officers are on leave others have to work overtime, and shifts are growing long to maintain service levels.

"I'm at hour 13 right now," Halsted said.

The findings

In his analysis, Casillas wrote the city didn't provide substantial documentation of its 2011 shortfall and suggested revenues are on an upswing.

"It appears to us that the city is in a uniquely strong financial position, and not only is it in a position to avoid any layoffs but it should have no financial problems maintaining current service levels.

"In fact, we believe it is well positioned to rapidly increase services as the economy begins to improve," Casillas wrote.

He noted only $30,000 of a planned $425,500 transfer from reserves had been made by June.

Casillas referred to a $1.7 million Revenue Stabilization Fund, and estimated that, combined with the general fund, the city is maintaining 25 percent of its operating revenues in reserves, while only 5 to 15 percent is recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.

"For a city that employs 80 people, with a general fund revenue of about $8.9 million, if that's all you have in savings that's not good," said Erickson, adding the stabilization fund is down slightly, to $1.3 million.

"To say that we have money stored away somewhere, not true," she said. "Look around at our neighboring jurisdictions. Why would we be immune?"

Erickson said sales tax revenues have stabilized at levels previously seen in 2005 and 2006, but salary and benefit expenses have continued to rise.

Finance Director Deb Booher said at a Sept. 8 City Council meeting she expects more reserves to be transferred to the general fund, but some end-of-year expenses, including December payroll, aren't processed until January.

Moving forward

Delaney will leave the department by the end of the year, according to an email to Halsted from city Human Resources Manager Deanna Kingery.

Funding for the deputy chief position will be diverted to an officer position until an officer position comes open, at which point it will be eliminated and a deputy chief will be reinstated, Kingery wrote.

Delaney was the department's first deputy chief, joining in 2008. He previously worked for the Visalia, Calif. police department, where current Chief Dennis Swiney worked before taking his job in 2007.

Erickson has promised no further cuts will be made through layoffs. Reductions will likely be needed, but the city will "find other ways," she said.

Erickson plans to take a 10 percent cut in wages, effectively reimbursing the city for her health care costs.

"We need to work together as a team. Everyone needs to be in this equally," she said.

Members of the officers' association said they remain dedicated to the city and its residents.

"No matter what happens with any of this we're going to be there for them," said Halsted.

See the full audit outline and 2005-2010 city fund analysis change at The Poulsbo Beat.

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