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Island County prosecutor shows need with cart of paperwork

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks wheels in a cart loaded with documents from a murder case to the commissioners’ work session. Banks is asking for additional funding for staff to help address a large workload. - Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks wheels in a cart loaded with documents from a murder case to the commissioners’ work session. Banks is asking for additional funding for staff to help address a large workload.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / Whidbey News-Times

It’s nearly budget season again at Island County and the first official funding requests are beginning to roll in, literally.

At the commissioners’ weekly work session in Coupeville Wednesday, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks entered the room lugging a wheeled cart loaded with massive three-ring binders.

Banks told the board that the thousands of pages of documents were from just one of the three murder cases currently being handled by the prosecutor’s office. The department is also juggling two public corruption cases and is laboring with a rash of recent sex offenses.

“We’re really still struggling to keep our heads above water,” Banks said.

He requested that a three-day-a-week deputy prosecutor be hired to full-time status as well as reinstating a half-time receptionist and legal assistant. Both positions would begin immediately, impacting the 2012 budget, but only the increased hours of the deputy prosecutor’s job would be permanent, he said.

Since 2008, the county has cut millions from its general fund to address revenue shortfalls. Much of those savings were found in the reduction of staffing levels and departments have been struggling to keep up ever since.

According to Budget Director Elaine Marlow, funding the two positions isn’t impossible, at least for this year. A contingency fund for unexpected expenses is built into every annual budget and about $124,000 is still available.

That’s more than enough to cover the estimated $35,000 price tag of funding the positions for the rest of the year. But that’s just the prorated price of funding both beginning June 1.

Continuing just the deputy prosecutor’s increased hours would run about an additional $40,000 a year. Marlow is planning to provide a budget presentation and six-year forecast on May 21, but said in an interview after the work session that she could not yet comment on the 2013 budget.

The board expressed willingness to consider Banks’ request but offered no promises. Commissioner Angie Homola said she aware of the prosecutor’s workload problems and that they have been compounded by public records requests.

She said later that she believed the office was not suffering from a spike, that the flow is “steady,” but that the office is laboring under one records request that is particularly large and time intensive.

Homola said she was aware that the planning department is also struggling greatly, but was hopeful that things could be wiggled around enough to help both departments.

However, Homola said she worried about the long-term sustainability of funding the deputy prosecutor position into 2013.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson also offered support, saying that she would be willing to forego the funding of a planner if it would help the prosecutor’s office.

Similarly, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she understands Banks need but that she required more time to examine the numbers before she would be able to grant the request.

“I would like to find a way to help you meet your needs Greg (but) I need to get a more comprehensive understanding of just what those costs are going to be and how much room we have to decide how far we can help you,” Price Johnson said.

“I understand your need, you’ve made it real clear,” she said.

Banks said he didn’t expect the board to approve his request that day and appreciated the commissioners’ consideration.

 

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