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Voters asked to curb county cuts

Kitsap County – remember them?

Chris Endresen, county commissioner representing Bainbridge and North Kitsap, hopes islanders do – and that they still see enough value in county services to support a property tax hike for 2003.

“I think they’re all applicable to Bainbridge,” Endresen said, particularly criminal justice services that are imperiled by budget cuts.

On the Nov. 5 general ballot, Kitsap voters will decide a property tax levy “lid lift” that would head off some county budget cuts slated for 2003.

The lift would add 7.5 cents per $1,000 valuation to local property tax bills, costing the owner of a $300,000 home about $22.50 in additional taxes next year.

Faced with rising operating costs, and with revenues constrained by voter-approved tax limitation initiatives, commissioners earlier this year considered across-the-board cuts to county departments.

They wound up steering around the sheriff’s office, hacking away instead at other departments.

Eliminated for 2003 were more than 42 full-time equivalent positions in the planning, parks and the assessor’s offices, among others. The county has about 1,200 full-time equivalent employees.

The lid lift would restore $1.2 million to the general budget, saving about 12 positions: three deputy prosecutors and a probation officer; several officers in the juvenile justice division, plus programs for at-risk youth; several park maintenance positions; and various clerks.

“We looked at things we felt had to be replaced,” Endresen said, “then took a really conservative look at what to ask the voters for.”

Even if the lid lift is approved, the county’s general budget will still be cut by 4.9 percent in 2003, to $70.76 million.

Endresen and Malcolm Fleming, Kitsap County administrator, cited the need to keep up with cost of living adjustments to employees – raises that are fixed under collective bargaining agreements.

The county has also lost about $500,000 per year in state shared revenues since the passage of I-695, the $30 car tab measure.

And it has been hardest hit by the upward spiral of health care costs for employees.

In 1998, Fleming said, Kitsap County paid $1.69 million for employee health care coverage, about 3.2 percent of the general budget. This year, insurance coverage cost $4.94 million, or 6.6 percent of the budget.

Since incorporation in 1991, Bainbridge residents have relied on local government for many services. But about 13 percent of the Bainbridge property tax bill still goes to support county services, including criminal and juvenile justice, elections, and the assessor’s and coroner’s offices.

The proposition is one of three tax issues facing Bainbridge voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The Kitsap County Public Facilities District is behind Proposition 1, which would boost the county sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent to fund sports facilities around Kitsap. Bainbridge Island is expected to get $1.5 million in funding for local projects should the measure pass.

Also, voters statewide will decide the fate of Referendum 51, a 9 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax hike to fund a statewide transportation package.

But they won’t be asked for additional funds for Bainbridge city government.

While Mayor Darlene Kordonowy’s proposed budget calls for $1.69 million in new city spending for 2003, it still falls within revenue limitations imposed by Washington voters.

The Kitsap County lid lift is required under I-747, which prohibits taxing jurisdictions from raising taxes by more than 1 percent per year without voter approval.

Even with the lid lift, Endresen suggested that commissioners will face the same questions a year from now: which services to cut, and how much money to ask voters for to restore them.

“If the status quo remains,” Endresen said, “we are looking at continually going backwards, just from the cost of living – it’s more than 1 percent.”

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