Final county cuts made

Island County commissioners had a great deal of difficulty finding the final $250,000 in preliminary cuts to fill a $2 million budget hole.

The threesome explored a range of options in a series of budget meetings this week. They wanted to avoid making any further layoffs, but ended up cutting three half-time equivalent positions from parks, facilities and WSU Extension to shave off the final $90,000.

“I don’t like any of it, to tell you the truth,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said. She and her fellow commissioners appeared worn out and downcast when the final decision was made.

But it’s still unclear how many jobs will be lost in the round of cutting, which follows the first $2 million in cuts last December. The commissioners decided to consolidate a number of departments — possibly the general services administration, human resources, central services and facilities — into one office. As a result, one of the department heads may lose his or her job, saving the county $60,000.

Savings will also come from the sublease of an office, the delay of car purchases for deputies, a cut in the WSU budget and Commissioner Angie Homola donated $5,000 of her salary to the county.

The commissioners started the round of preliminary budget cutting Monday. They were able to pare $1.75 million from the general fund by cutting from all the county departments that participate in the fund. The percentage of budget cuts ranged from 1 percent of the coroner’s tiny office to 23 percent of the health department.

The reductions are actually for the 2010 budget, though they will be enacted about halfway through this year. Budget Director Elaine Marlow said the county will have to spend from $1 million to $1.5 million in reserves to get through the end of 2009 since the cuts come late in the year.

The commissioners were scheduled to identify the final $250,000 in reductions Wednesday, but they made virtually no headway. The commissioners met with the elected officials and department heads; they all lamented the cuts they are already facing and most argued they couldn’t take more.

“If we have to go any further, the checks and balances would not be in place and we will not be able to fulfill our mandate,” Auditor Sheilah Crider said.

Treasurer Linda Riffe pointed out that her department was already reduced 13 percent at the beginning of the year. She said the additional 5 percent the commissioners are asking will be difficult to handle since she has the lowest staffing level among counties of the same size.

Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock and Judge Vickie Churchill told the commissioners that they simply couldn’t cut the 10 percent that was assigned to superior and juvenile courts.

Hancock gave a presentation explaining the staffing level changes in county law and justice departments since 1974. The sheriff, for example, gained 382 percent more employees and the clerk increased by 338 percent.

Juvenile and superior court got the lowest increases, 43 percent and 108 percent respectively.

The commissioners agreed to limit the court’s reduction to 7 percent.

Few could offer cuts. Judy Feldman, the director of WSU, offered to reduce her budget by a total of 20 percent. Undersheriff Kelly Mauck said his office could put off buying two replacement cars next year.

Since the commissioners weren’t able to make much progress Wednesday, they continued the meeting until 8:30 Friday morning. They still had a lot of cutting left an hour later, so they again continued it to 11 a.m. The final decision was made with just a minute or two left.

Now Marlow will have to compile the entire $2 million in proposed reductions into a document the commissioners can finalize Monday afternoon.

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