County looks to fine-tune budget

PORT ORCHARD — After announcing a balanced 2008 budget, the Kitsap County Commissioners are fine-tuning the numbers and sweating out some of the small stuff.

In the week before they will ratify the final budget, they are turning their attention to details such as utility bills and overtime pay.

Additionally, the commissioners are expected to approve a 6.8 percent pay increase for the elected officials, which is tied to a state-mandated increase for District Court judges.

The commissioners held a meeting last Wednesday night, during which they actively solicited public comment. There were only two takers, Corrections Chief Ned Newlin and Planning Commissioner Jim Sommerhauser.

The commissioners then extended the comment period until Dec. 7, but no additional remarks were received.

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said the lack of feedback may not indicate overwhelming public approval for the budget, but it “probably means they don’t disapprove.” 

“We have asked for reductions in certain supplies and services,” said Administrative Services Director Ben Holland. “In some cases, we won’t be able to make it. We can’t cut expenses on the envelopes needed to mail ballots because we are now an all-mail county and it is required by law. But we have been able to move funds around.”

At a Monday budget meeting, the commissioners discussed the use of electricity, wondering whether the lights were on longer than needed.

“I’ve been in Port Orchard late at night and this place is lit up like a Christmas tree,” Angel said.

When told the lights were left on for cleaning crews, Angel suggested the lights should be turned out on each floor immediately after the cleaning.

There are some utility-saving measures already in place, such as turning off the main lights on a timer, so any county employee working after hours will need to use a portable lamp (the computers are never shut down).

Even so, the county plans to install sensor mechanisms that will shut down the lights when they are no longer in use.

The county has also budgeted for overtime pay, which can’t always be predicted. Of the departments, the biggest allocation is $600,000 for the Sheriff’s Office. While this number drew the attention of the commissioners, Holland said it was less than what was allocated in previous years.

“With the sheriff, if you are already there (at a law enforcement incident) you can’t leave,” Holland said. “The sheriff has been really helpful, but he is in a situation where he feels we haven’t given him enough people.” 

In other departments, the County Clerk’s Office cut its allotted position and the coroner gave up a fiscal analyst with the agreement that Holland’s office would take up the slack.

Since the employee in question once worked for the coroner, this was determined to be a good fit. And in another surprise, the line-item for one cut position was listed twice, decreasing the total budget cost.

Even with all the cost-cutting, the salary increase for elected officials is justified, according to North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer.

“We need the increases to keep everyone in sync,” he said. “If we froze the elected officials’ salaries, they would be making less than the department heads, which would upset the balance. We need to follow the system that is already in place.”

The budget is scheduled for ratification at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 in the commissioners’ chambers in Port Orchard.

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