Island County prosecutor less stressed now that more help is coming
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
June 15, 2012 · Updated 2:27 PM
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks became a happier man this week.
On Wednesday, the Island County Commissioners approved his May funding/staffing request to get some extra help around the office. While the decision came just a few days after his office took on yet another murder case --- that makes four --- Banks said he and his staff are thrilled with the good news.
“There was a huge sigh of relief in the office and much rejoicing,” Banks said.
Beginning next week, a three-day-a-week deputy prosecutor will start working full time and next month the office will hire a half-time receptionist and legal assistant.
The extra help comes at a time when the county is struggling in the face of continuing budget reductions. Over the past four years, the board has been forced to chop millions from the general fund to address revenue shortfalls.
A lot of that money came in the form of staffing reductions, which has put the strain on departments as they grapple to maintain levels of service. The prosecutor’s office is one of many departments hit particularly hard.
At the time of his original request in May, Banks’ staff was struggling under the weight of a trio of murder cases, two high-profile public corruption cases and a string of sex offenders.
While the recent slaying of Greenbank resident Kathie Baker has left his office with a fourth murder case to contend with, Banks did shed some responsibility in the Washington State Patrol’s investigation of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Banks was asked to review the investigation and on Wednesday he declined to file criminal charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to warrant such an action.
While Banks said the additional help will go a long way, the improvement may be only temporary. The board agreed only to fund the positions through the end of the year.
Island County Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the two positions collectively amount to about $28,000. All of the money will come from the county’s contingency fund, which has a balance of about $124,000 as of last month.
During Wednesday’s work session, all the commissioners voiced support for Banks’ request.
Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she had initially been concerned about depleting the contingency fund, but was willing to approve the expenditure due to its relatively low cost and the fact that the prosecutor’s office is now dealing with a fourth murder case.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson said she supported Banks’ request from day one, though she made it clear last week that she would not support a proposal by the Law and Justice Council to increase sales tax by three-tenths of 1 percent to fund extra deputies, police cars and other related law and justice needs.
Commissioner Angie Homola said she also would support the funding request, at least until the end of the year. How the positions would be funded beyond that is uncertain.
Brainstorming, Homola also said the county may be in the market for a half-time risk manager and asked if the same person could also double as the prosecutor office’s legal assistant. If so, that may be a way to make the position more permanent, she said.
Banks said he hadn’t considered it but believes they are two different skills sets and may not be compatible. However, he said it may be worth looking into.
“Creative thinking is good,” Price Johnson agreed.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.