Kitsap County shifts to four-day week

For the next step in its budget-cutting process, Kitsap County government will close several offices one day a week beginning May 8.

“We asked our departments to make budget cuts of either 4 percent or 6 percent,” South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said. “They indicated they could make those cuts, but not if they were required to stay open for five days a week.”

The new hours will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which extends the current closing time by 30 minutes.

Staff will face cuts in both hours and salary, from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Salaries for the county commissioners, which are set by the state, cannot be decreased by the board.

As a compromise gesture, the three commissioners will begin paying their own healthcare premiums.

The decision to close was made at a budget meeting last week, and is scheduled for final approval at the April 27 regular meeting of the county commissioners.

The latest round of budget cuts, of which the one-day closure is only one part, needs to add up to more than $3 million. Several department heads have asked the commissioners to make the cuts as severe as necessary so they don’t have to come back to the table for another round of cuts in a few months.

The specific savings of the one-day closure was has not yet been computed, according to Administrative Services Director Shawn Gabriel. However, at least $700,000 will be saved by the closure of the administrative building for one day.

“This will impact the budget tremendously because the highest portion of our budget is salaries,” Kitsap County Auditor Walt Washington said.

Kitsap County has embraced budget-cutting measures for almost two years, preceding the current recession. Economic conditions along with falling sales tax revenues have canceled out any gains made by the county, and the commissioners determined they needed to cut another $3.3 million.

To accomplish this the county has divided services into two categories — law and justice and everything else.

Here, law and justice (the sheriff, courts, clerk and prosecutor) will need to cut 4.12 percent, while other departments are required to cut 6.12 percent.

This translates into a loss of seven deputy positions.

Because two openings currently exist, these will not be filled. The Sheriff’s Office is now seeking out grant money to support the remaining seven positions, and if this is unsuccessful, the five will be cut at the end of the summer.

Departments facing Friday public closure include the auditor, assessor, treasurer, public works and commissioner.

The administration building will be locked on Friday and employees will access their offices with a key card system already in place.

While cuts vary with regard to the department and employee, the cuts redefine each job as a .9 FTE (full-time employee). So everyone will be working nine-tenths of their current job for nine-tenths of the pay.

Commissioners and other elected officials, who are not hourly employees, will still work the same hours.

This, according to Garrido, usually far exceeds the 40-hour limit.

“I will still do whatever is needed to do this job,” she said.

The auditor’s office, which handles licensing and voting, handles some of the heaviest traffic of the public departments. Washington said he feels that “the public will adjust” to the new hours, and the increasingly robust Web site will take up much of the slack.

Washington has already committed to not publishing the voter’s pamphlet and placing the information online, which will save $80,000 during 2009.

This is not a great sacrifice during 2009, but if budget conditions continue to deteriorate during next year’s general election, the deficit will be harder to overcome.

Closing county offices will have a ripple effect on the local community, especially during the time it takes to inform the public of the new hours. One unresolved issue has to do with the local title companies, which need to record title closings on the day they occur.

Pacific Northwest Title President Chris Rieland said there are several “work-arounds” that can be implemented, but will take some planning.

“Friday is our biggest day for closings because people want to close and then move in to a new house on the weekend,” she said. “We can work around this, but it could end up being more expensive for the consumer.”

Rieland said new contracts could be written to accommodate the new schedule, but existing contracts could cause some confusion and need to be rewritten.

This can cause even more problems.

There are possible solutions, such as opening a satellite office in the county clerk facility or in Silverdale for Friday recording.

“They could deputize one of us to record deeds,” she said. “The title companies could fund the position, but this cost would also be passed on to the consumer.”

Washington is in the process of scheduling a meeting with the eight largest local title companies, at which time he will hammer out a compromise between public and private interests.

The title companies may choose to accommodate the new limits, or they could fund a position to handle title transfers on Friday.

Another ripple will be felt by the adminstration building’s coffee bar, which will not stay open on Fridays. Owner Diane Kelly, who lost her snackbar lease in the courthouse last year, said the cutback “will hurt, but what can you do?”

Kelly said she will need to lay off one worker who worked only on Fridays.

Kelly pays the county a percentage of profits in lieu of rent for the space. The percentage will be decreased after the closure.

The four-day schedule will begin May 4 and continue through the end of 2009.

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