Kitsap County budget cuts could ripple through communities

The final 2010 budget as approved by the Kitsap Commissioners on Monday night trims expenditures across the board, but its impact extends beyond the employees and into all levels of the community.

“If my husband loses his job, then we will no longer be able to afford daycare,” said Audrey Graf of Port Orchard, in testimony before the commissioners. “The daycare workers will lose income and will no longer be able to pay for their haircuts. There is a trickle-down effect that happens when you pass a budget that lays off needed personnel.”

Michael Graf, who did not testify, has worked at the Kitsap County Jail for just over a year.

He was one of those notified in late November that he was one of nine officers who could be laid off.

Last week the department found funding for three deputies, but Graf was still in the bottom six of the seniority count.

“This situation has changed how we do our jobs in the jail,” he said after the meeting. “It adds another level of pressure in what is already a very stressful job.”

“We all should be gravely concerned about the situation created by this budget,” said North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer. “Cutting public safety is a tough situation for us to face, but this budget is full of hard choices.”

Work on the 2010 budget began as soon as the 2009 documents were finalized one year ago.

Since then, the county has reduced its general fund projected expenditures $5.7 million from $88.4 million to $82.7 million.

Every department has felt the crunch, with building closures, pay cuts and layoffs occurring at every level.

On the final night of discussion, two topics were brought forward by the public.

Jail personnel spoke out against jail cuts, while Ric James of Bremerton opposed the county plan to re-allocate money from the veterans’ assistance fund.

This action represents the “creative” use of finding money sources which has driven the budget process.

The fund currently has a $900,000 balance and is scheduled to receive approximately $300,000 from a specific property tax allocation.

It has a projected expenditure of $450,000 a year, which is to be used to support indigent veterans.

The county found a loophole, which exempts it from making the contribution as long as the fund has more than a year’s worth of operating funds.

Since the fund has enough to operate for two years, the county determined it could forego the $300,000 for one year.

Veterans groups oppose this, since they anticipate a greater number of returning veterans who will make use of the funds.

The county, on the other hand, has determined this “cut” is acceptable because there is no decrease in services.

“We don’t like making this cut,” said Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown, “but if we paid the money into the veterans’ fund we would have to lay off a lot more deputies.”

Audrey Graf, however, finds in this argument another aspect that links all the impacts of the budget together.

“My husband is a veteran,” she said. “If he needs help, this money needs to be there.”

Human Services Planner Leif Bentsen, who also supervises the veterans’ program, is certain there will be no service cuts for veterans this year “unless we have an earthquake or something.

“We are not the first county to do this,” he said. “They are not taking money from the fund; they’re just not adding revenue.”

This is an action the county can probably take only once, since next year the fund will most likely be cut in half.

Allocations must then continue and will be a mandatory part of the 2011 budget, since taxes are collected specifically for this fund.

Since the county’s mantra is universal sacrifice, most employees are cutting back and taking one for the team.

Some others, like jail employee Terry Cousins, think the county can do more to fund programs — especially when it comes to public service.

Cousins feels both the Sheriff’s Office and the corrections staff are top-heavy and have too many administrators.

“Why do we always cut from the bottom?” she said. “If we began at the top, I’m sure those affected would find more resources to save these positions. There are people who just move paper back and forth. You can more easily cut administrators than the people who are working in the trenches. And when you cut those jobs you save more money.”

Graf, one of the lowest-paid corrections officers, makes $44,137 per year.

Most corrections officers earn $56,326, with sergeants making about $10,000 more.

“My job as a corrections officer is invaluable for the safety of everyone,” Cousins said, “but I can’t say that all of the positions at the top making more money than people on the bottom of the pay scale are making this a safer community.”

Sheriff Steve Boyer, who said Cousins “speaks as a private citizen and always speaks from the heart,” disagrees with her assessment.

“We have the leanest and most efficient management team that I am aware of,” Boyer said. “We’re not top heavy. And that’s not the issue. The issue is how we can work cooperatively to save these programs and get the most out of the budget. To talk about (being top heavy) serves no one.”

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