News

Commissioners approve 2012 county budget

by AMANDA WINTERS
Sequim Gazette

After three months of strenuous union negotiations and identifying painful but necessary program cuts to close a $2.7-million budget gap, Clallam County has a balanced budget for 2012.

 

Kay Stevens, the county’s budget director, created 15 different budgets as the financial situation evolved. She normally makes two, County Administrator Jim Jones said.

 

The budget has a general fund of $31.2 million in expenditures, which uses $38,326 in reserves. To close the budget gap, 15 people were laid off, four positions were reduced in hours and unions agreed to accept 16 unpaid furlough days and exchange their 3-percent cost-of-living adjustment for an increase in the employee-paid portion of medical insurance costs in the same amount, Jones said at a Dec. 6 budget hearing.

 

“We have extended the same terms to almost all non-represented and management personnel as well,” he said.

 

In November, the county issued 16 layoff notices after negotiations with the county’s largest union failed. A week later, the union took another vote and agreed to the concessions, resulting in the county rescinding the layoff notices. Layoffs issued in October remain.

 

“Excuse my French, but it was a hell of a ride,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said before approving the budget Dec. 6. He later added, “We saved employment, we saved services to the taxpayer and we lived within our means.”

 

The county was able to retain two popular programs, Streamkeepers and Master Gardeners, through shuffling staff and placing both under the county road department.

Court pay discussed

The 16 unpaid furlough days included in the budget do not apply to 24/7 units such as the Sheriff’s Office corrections division and patrols.

 

At a public budget hearing the morning of Dec. 6, Judge Ken Williams told the commissioners the courts couldn’t close 16 days a year because the state judicial statute mandates court days.

 

Because of that and the time-consuming nature of the jobs of the court administrator and court commissioner, he requested their salaries not be reduced.

 

“They are unlike other employees,” he said.

 

Williams said neither employee has had a raise in two years or receives a car allowance, but both work more than full time just to get the job done and their duties only will increase as a result of cuts.

 

“I think an $8,000 salary reduction in this economy on a $134,000 a year salary is not unreasonable,” Chapman said, adding county employees across the board are receiving cuts.

 

A 7-percent pay cut to someone working night shift as a janitor will hurt their family exponentially more, he said.

 

“Jim Jones is taking a $14,000 a year pay cut,” Chapman said. “He’s still here at 6:30, he’ll still be here until 6:30 or 7 tonight if needed. You can’t say one employee is more important.”

 

Chapman said he respects the court commissioner and thinks he does a great job, but thinks he’ll still do a great job for a salary of $124,000.

Further developments expected

As the state Legislature looks to make another $1.4 billion in cuts this month, on top of $4.6 billion of cuts finalized in May, county leaders warned more trouble could be down the road.

 

“We expect some adjustments through the first and second quarters of next year,” Commissioner Mike Doherty said.

 

Doherty said he expects more change quarter-by-quarter.

 

Commissioner Steve Tharinger, also a state representative, said the current state budget is at the per-capita spending levels of 1984, despite a rise in population and increased needs for things such as elderly assistance and reduced-price lunches for children.

 

“The question is, in this fiscally challenging environment, how do we meet those needs with the dollars we have?” he asked during the Dec. 6 hearing.

 

Tharinger said prevention programs are needed to reduce long-term costs, especially in law and justice.

 

 

Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequimgazette.com.

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