Island County commissioners ID budget cuts
By JESSIE STENSLAND
Whidbey News Times Assistant editor
April 14, 2009 · Updated 2:47 PM
Parks, planning and the health department will take the biggest hits, percentage-wise, under preliminary budget cuts Island County commissioners proposed Monday afternoon.
The forlorn and uncomfortable-looking trio expounded on how difficult it was to find ways to crop $2 million from the general funds budget as elected officials and department heads watched their progress. In the end, the commissioners identified $1.75 million in proposed cuts by going through a list of departments and assigning a percentages of reductions to each.
"I've been sick to my stomach all weekend," Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said about having to make the tough decisions.
The reductions are based on the 2010 budget, though they will probably go into effect June 1. Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the county will likely use about $1 million in reserves — in addition to the cuts — to get through 2009.
It's unknown how many positions would be lost under the proposed $1.75 million in cuts, though a significant amount will likely come through attrition and reductions in hours. It will be up to elected officials to decide how to carve their assigned percentage from their departments.
On Wednesday, the commissioners are scheduled to earmark the remaining $250,000 in cuts and move towards finalizing the budget. It may be the most difficult chapter so far in the budget slashing saga, which began late last year with the first round of $2 million in cuts.
"It gets uglier and uglier," Commissioner John Dean said.
The county's budget crater is due to steep declines in interest on investments, fees for services and sales tax revenue.
In the meantime, Human Resources Director Larry Larsen will speak with unions representatives to see if they will agree to changing the county's health insurance policy, which could save $450,000 a year.
Marlow presented everyone at the meeting with each commissioner's proposal for slashing spending. The proposals were based on budget summaries from each elected officials or department head, identifying 5, 10, 15 and 20 percent in cuts.
The commissioners' prelimary plan is to chop the health department's budget by 23 percent, the parks department by 20 percent and the planning department by 17 percent.
Among law and justice departments, Superior Court is facing a 10 percent decline, district court is facing 8 percent, the clerk is looking at 7 percent, emergency management must cut 10 percent, and the coroner will have to slice away 1 percent. The prosecutor was asked to trim 5 percent, which means he won't be able to fill a vacant deputy prosecutor position.
The commissioners assigned the sheriff to cut 6 percent of his regular budget and 3 percent from the jail. Sheriff Mark Brown already made the necessary reductions by laying off two deputies, a corrections deputy and not filling another position after a deputy retires next year.
Here's a list of the preliminary cuts the commissioners identified for the rest of the county department:
Assessor: 7 percent.
Auditor: 8 percent.
Budget Director: 7 percent.
Commissioners: 10 percent.
Central Services: 10 percent.
Facilities: 8 percent.
General Services Administration: 12 percent.
Human Resources: 6 percent.
Human Services: 9 percent.
Treasurer: 5 percent.
WSU Extension: 10 percent.Contact Whidbey News Times Assistant editor Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 360.675.6611 ext. 5056.