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Poulsbo looking for pennies to pinch

POULSBO — With a budget shortfall almost guaranteed, Poulsbo city officials are considering ways of saving dollars wherever they can.

A drive to put up for sale the current city hall site as soon as possible, cuts to a program that serves the unemployed, plus hesitancy about buying a building currently housing several of the city’s parks and recreation programs, were all given approval by the City Council’s Finance Committee Wednesday.

There are encouraging signs for the economy, nationally and locally. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday the recession is likely over and is beginning to recover, and in August, for the first time this year, the city’s real estate excise tax surpassed last year’s monthly total.

But city officials believe this year the city’s general fund will finish 2009 with a deficit of about $220,000, by one count, and Kitsap County’s unemployment rate virtually held steady at 7.3 percent in August.

Despite unemployment remaining high, and benefits running out for those unable to find work, the committee forwarded a proposal to stop giving $5,300 to Sound Works Job Center next year, a non-profit, no-fee job placement service.

That amounts to about half the center’s annual budget, said Executive Director Bob Middlebrook. The center, located at 780 NE Iverson St., will remain in the city-owned building rent-free. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Since 1994, when the center started keeping records, it has placed more than 4,200 people in jobs.

“Now is not the time, I’m putting Poulsbo people to work,” Middlebrook said. “But you can’t get mad at them, it’s their money.”

Cutbacks are something that may become more familiar.

“Anything not a core service for the city is in jeopardy,” said Councilwoman Becky Erickson, who sits on the Finance Committee.

The budget squeeze has placed an emphasis on getting the current City Hall on the real estate market.

“We’re doing it as fast as we can,” Mayor Kathryn Qaude said. The city will interview realtors next, and Councilman Ed Stern said he expects it to be on the market in one to two months.

“The sooner the better,” Stern said.

The property is budgeted to pay for $1.4 million of the new, $15.8 million City Hall. Whether the property located at 19050 Jensen Way NE can fetch that remains to be seen. Another city property that amounts for about $1 million of the new City Hall finance package has not sold.

The city’s Parks and Recreation building, owned by the troubled Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority, will likely go on sale and city officials said the possibility of buying it should be investigated.

“We all know in the long run this is a good investment, but how much can we afford to invest?” said Quade.

The building, at 19540 Front Street NE, houses many parks programs, including the city’s preschool program, the Learn and Grow Preschool.

Stern is opposed to the city buying any more property, considering it is trying to unload several parcels.

“At some point spending has to be curtailed in light of the projects already taken on,” Stern said.

The building has not gone on the market yet, officials said, but added the price would likely be about $500,000. That doesn’t include repairs, which would cost about $20,000 a year for several years.

Stern said the option of buying the building should be investigated, especially if the city can find a tenant to help offset the cost.

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