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Bremerton's budget chief hits the ground running

Becky Hasart, Bremerton
Becky Hasart, Bremerton's financial services director, arrives after a year of turnover at the top budget-writing post.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Becky Hasart, Bremerton’s new financial services director, says she’s right where she belongs.

As the daughter of a military family who went to high school in Tacoma, working in a Puget Sound military town feels right to her.

“In some sense it’s a homecoming,” she said.

Hasart, who took up the head position in financial services Dec. 1, arrives after a year of turnover at the post, which included a dismissal, a retirement and the passage of the city’s 2011 budget with no top finance officer at all. Into the job a month, Hasart pledges stability in the department, looking forward to Bremerton emerging from the recession and, many years later, eventually retiring here.

Hasart has worked for two other western Washington cities during times of growth. From 1994 to 2001, she was the finance manager in the city of DuPont, which saw a population growth of 601 to about 2,500 during her tenure there. During that time, Intel moved a branch to DuPont, the Center Street off-ramp from Interstate 5 was built and Hasart helped secure several infrastructure bonds that contributed to the city’s expansion.

“For me there’s a certain satisfaction now when I drive by there that I laid the groundwork for much of that,” she said.

After DuPont, she worked in Washougal starting in 2001, where she was not only the finance director and city clerk, but also spent nine months as the public works director and also worked for the human resources department. In April 2009, she was laid off, which eventually led her to seek the opening in Bremerton.

Before working in municipal government, Hasart worked for the former Washing-ton Mutual Bank — now Chase Bank — as a loan service representative, accountant and insurance supervisor. She initially thought handling city finances would not be much different from working in the private sector, but now says municipal work brings much more personal gratification and community connection than handling bank loans.

“You get into this business and there truly is a calling,” Hasart said. “The personal satisfaction truly outweighs what you find in other industries.”

Hasart now comes to Bremerton, where there hasn’t been a steady leader in the financial services office in a year. Former director Andy Parks was fired by Mayor Patty Lent Jan. 1, 2010 because Lent wanted someone who shared her “vision” for the city. Later that month, the City Council appointed Barbara Stephenson to the position, who left her post as Kitsap County Treasurer to take the job at Lent’s request. Stephenson retired in July after five months on the job. The 2011 budget was written by Finance Officer Cathy Johnson and Budget Analyst Caroline Thompson.

Johnson, who has worked for the city for 30 years, said the challenge of writing a budget without a financial services director was helped by her longtime experience in the finance office, but she and Thompson worked many extra hours to make up for the staffing shortage, neglecting other day-to-day duties.

“There’s a lot of things that haven’t gotten done,” Johnson said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

Any new projects or wish list items for the department have been on hold until a new director was hired.

“We just didn’t have the number of bodies to work on any new issues,” Johnson said. “Improvements, efficiencies have to wait until you have the resources to get them done.”

Lent said the city’s departments worked together to assemble the budget — which included $1.4 million in cuts — and the result was just as good as if there was a lead budget-writer.

“I think that the rest of the staff kind of came and they rallied around what needed to be done at the time,” Lent said.

Hasart, who started the same day the 2011 budget was approved by the City Council, was impressed.

“There seems to be a real sense of cooperation here that’s very refreshing,” she said. “I think that, more than anything, will help us.”

Bremerton is struggling with the rest of the country during a recession that’s lasting longer than most, Hasart said, but the city has taken steps in recent years to avoid the magnitude of budget cuts other cities and counties now face. She cited unfilled vacancies, department reorganizations, wage concessions and furloughs as measures that will help Bremerton become more efficient during the economic downturn.

“Bremerton has been taking the right steps to position itself to do well,” she said.

But, when the recession ends, Bremerton won’t necessarily go back to restoring lost positions and services and return to its pre-recession ways of operation, Hasart said.

Though the city government may see some growth in future years, Hasart will first consider whether more employees, services and spending make sense.

“We don’t spend it just because it’s there,” she said. “Will we grow just to grow? Absolutely not.”

And that’s part of what Lent likes about Hasart — she said Hasart has already spoken out about projects that might cost the city too much money and offered input about how it can operate most efficiently.

“She’s the right person and she’s here at the right time as we’re making adjustments,” Lent said. “She’s just going to be a dynamo for us to have on board.”

This is the first time in a long time every city director’s seat has been filled at meetings, Lent said. Former Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams was fired in March and replaced with Vincent Akhimie in July, after Stephenson vacated her financial services position.

One of Hasart’s next tasks will be to facilitate contract negotiations with city employees’ four unions, Lent said. The first meetings are scheduled to start in March to discuss three-year contracts that expire Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, Hasart describes her new job and residence as a “perfect fit.” As a “voracious reader” who enjoys world travel and the arts, she hopes to become a member of the Seattle Art Museum. Having just moved to downtown Bremerton, she loves the scenery the city has to offer.

“I’m already referring to this as home,” she said. “Finding myself saying that without any hesitation is huge.”

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