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Police academy deputies laid off

Island County’s two newest deputies will graduate from the state police academy April 14. Two weeks later, they will be laid off, along with a corrections deputy.

Sheriff Mark Brown isn’t waiting for county commissioners to decide where to cut about $2 million from the general fund budget. Instead, he’s making a preemptive strike to get his ledger in order.

“As the elected sheriff I do not believe that I have the luxury of waiting to make a decision regarding my budget and fear that waiting indefinitely will dramatically increase the potential for us to lose additional resources,” Brown wrote in a letter to his employees.

Brown’s plan is to lay off the two new deputies and the newest corrections deputy, a woman who works in the jail, effective May 1. In addition, the next vacant patrol position will be frozen. Brown anticipates that Lt. Chris Ellis will be the next to leave; he’s scheduled to retire in January of 2010.

Also, Sgt. Rick Norrie, a member of the two-person traffic division, and Detective John Nieder will be reassigned to patrol.

“Emergency response and patrol are our paramount responsibilities,” Undersheriff Kelly Mauck explained, adding that they need more deputies on patrol to keep overtime down.

Mauck said the layoffs will save the department $140,000 this year and $305,000 next year. County officials need to cut about $2 million from the budget because of huge declines in revenues from investments, sales tax and fees for services.

The sheriff noted that he will aggressively pursue federal COPS grants aimed at rehiring officers who lost their jobs because of the recession. Brown said they will ask for funding for three positions and if the application is successful, they will hire back the laid-off deputies.

“Unfortunately, there grants are not a sure thing,” Brown said. “There is a lot of competition out there for them.”

Brown went to the academy in Burien Thursday to talk to the two recruits in person and give them the bad news.

“It’s very, very sad,” Brown said. “I told them I will do everything I can to help them get jobs in our area, with hopes of hiring them back someday.”

With these cuts, Brown said he hopes no more will come his way.

Brown has been outspoken in arguing that public safety should be the top priority for county funding, but he’s been criticized for saying non-mandated services should be the first on the chopping block. He said he’s a strong believer in the value of services like parks and WSU Extension, and he agrees that such programs prevent crime in the long run, but he said the extraordinary fiscal problems force officials to concentrate on the essentials.

“Boy, these are tough times,” he said.

County commissioners are scheduled to meet with elected officials and department heads next Monday and Tuesday to discuss budget cuts. Budget Director Elaine Marlow will then meet with commissioners individually to talk about their ideas for cuts. After that, she will gather their ideas and present the commissioners with a proposal sometime in mid-April.

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