October 9, 2006
Contact: PJ Callahan
Phone: (360) 337-4481
County Officials to Tighten
Belts to Secure Financial Viability
ORCHARD, WAŚIn a
meeting earlier today, the Board of County Commissioners urged Kitsap County
elected and appointed officials to work together to help ensure the future
financial viability of the county. In a brief presentation, Ben Holland,
Director of Administrative Services, outlined the short- and long-term
financial challenges facing the county.
"While revenue collected from property taxes on existing homes can only
increase 1% each year, cost of living increases and inflation are rising at
3 to 4% each year," said Holland. "Every year we continue at the same level
of operations, the more we are dipping into our reserves to pay our bills.
In short, the savings account is running dry."
Based on the 2006 Kitsap County Customer Satisfaction Survey, Holland
reported that most citizens are satisfied with the overall level and quality
of services they receive from the county. However, the challenge is how to
sustain those services when their costs are increasing at a faster rate than
the revenues that support them. Holland provided evidence that General Fund
reserves could approach zero by the end of 2008, raising concerns about
financial sustainability in the event of an emergency, such as a major
earthquake. The General Fund is critical to county government because it
supports all elected functions and all government functions that need
subsidies from tax revenues, which is pretty much everything outside public
works. Road operations and construction funds are also feeling the pinch and
are looking for ways to cut expenses.
The bottom line is that Kitsap County needs to reduce expenses, generate
more revenue or both. Other counties and cities throughout
are in similar circumstances following voter approval of I-747. Short-term
solutions Kitsap County will enact to buy time and slow down the diminishing
General Fund include a hiring chill and clamp down on non-essential
spending. The county will also look to its elected and appointed officials
to help formulate long-term strategies to address future budget challenges.
After hearing the presentation, there were few questions from the attendees
except for clarification regarding the hiring chill, which will not impact
recruitments currently in process. All three county commissioners offered
their support for the proposal. After recently returning from a Washington
State Association of Counties (WSAC) meeting, the commissioners were well
aware that Kitsap County is not in this alone.
heard from several counties at WSAC that can't make their payroll," said
Commissioner Jan Angel. "It's a statewide issue, and it's time for us to
Commissioner Chris Endresen concurred: "We've been fortunate to stave off
this situation as long as we have. Some counties have diverted road funds to
help bridge the gap, and they have now lost their ability to compete for
grants to fund roads. We've got a structural problem with how county
government is financed, so we need to find new ways to keep up with the cost
of living and growth."
Commissioner Patty Lent spoke about the importance of public education in
helping citizens understand the realities of the situation. "We started an
education process this year by giving presentations to community groups
about how property taxes are generated, how they are spent and what
percentage of your property taxes goes to the county. This coming year, we
need to broaden that message so every citizen understands how property taxes
Gears, County Administrator, remains optimistic that the group of elected
and appointment officials will work together to address the financial
challenges the county is facing. "While this is a balancing act, we are
working on a collaborative strategy and a realistic plan for moving
forward," he said.