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Island County commissioners prepare for face-off over budget cuts

There could be a showdown at the commissioners’ room Monday morning as controversy over proposed budget cuts continue to swirl around the county.

The chairman of the Island County Republican Party has issued a “call to action” urging members to protest the budget reductions at the 10 a.m. meeting in Coupeville.

“The county is making across-the-board cuts because of loss of revenue. That is not the way to make cuts. That will treat every department of equal value. Security is paramount, above Beachwatchers, 4H, etc.,” Bill Carruthers wrote on the Web site.

In addition, members of the sheriff’s office have been sharing a recording of a comment Commissioner John Dean made at a meeting. The deputies are upset because they feel Dean equated the worth of deputies and volunteer WSU Beach Watchers.

The three Island County commissioners chose to spread around more than $600,000 in cuts to the current expense funds to most of the county departments. The sheriff and prosecutor argued against decreases in their budgets and recommended that funding for non-mandated services — such as WSU Extension, parks and Senior Services — be temporarily eliminated.

Under the current proposals, the sheriff will lose the director of the emergency management office and a records clerk. The prosecutor will lose a deputy prosecutor. The superior court will lose a court commissioner.

The commissioners have made extremely sizable cuts in the non-mandated departments during three rounds of budget cuts in the last year, but they chose not to eliminate funding altogether.

Commissioner Dean upset some deputies in a comment he made in a meeting with Island County Sheriff Mark Brown and Undersheriff Kelly Mauck.

“In my mind, cutting deputies and cutting the Beach Watchers program is probably equal,” Dean said.

Detective Ed Wallace, the public information officer for the sheriff, has heard the recording. He said a lot of deputies are angry with the comment and the budget cuts.

“To compare us to Beach Watchers and put us on the same level is insulting to say the least,” he said. “They are not going out on domestic violence calls. They are not being shot at. They are not putting their lives on the line. It’s downright insulting.”

Mauck said he was also insulted when Dean made the comment, but he said he realizes that Dean has been an important supporter of the sheriff’s office. Dean was against increasing the cut to the sheriff’s office from 4.5 to 5 percent, but the other commissioners overruled him. A year ago, Dean and Commissioner Helen Price Johnson teamed up to prevent former Commissioner Mac McDowell from cutting deputies.

“I think we have a difference of opinion, but I do respect John Dean,” Mauck said.

In an email response from Dean, he explained his comment and pointed out that no patrol deputies are going to be cut and no Beach Watchers are going to be cut in the proposed budget.

“I have made many friends during my career as a newspaper editor and now as a county commissioner. Some of my friends are sheriff deputies and some of my friends are Beach Watchers. In my mind, in my world of friends and associates, cutting deputies and cutting Beach Watchers is equally painful. I do not want to cut either,” Dean wrote.

“As I told the sheriff and undersheriff the other day, it’s like being asked to decide whether I want to give up my son or my daughter. I refuse to pick one over the other,” he added.

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