Council reinstates portion of sheriff and prosecutor budget
By COLLEEN ARMSTRONG
Islands Sounder Publisher, Editor
February 8, 2012 · Updated 9:29 AM
The County Council has back-peddled on cuts it made in December to law and justice despite voicing serious financial concern.
On Tuesday, the county council voted 6-0 to reinstate $60,000 to the sheriff's department and $21,000 to the prosecuting attorney's office after a tentative budget agreement reduced funding to those departments.
Council chairwoman Patty Miller said the move was "delaying the inevitable," as the county faces major financial troubles in the next six years.
"I am voting for this, but with the expectation that your starting point for 2013 is the original budget," Miller told Sheriff Rob Nou and Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord, who both spoke to the council prior to its decision.
The council originally approved taking out $30,600 from the prosecutor's budget. That number was later reduced to $26,206. The sheriff was looking at a $74,939 cut.
County administrator Pete Rose outlined the council's options for finding savings in other areas: employees' benefits plans (around $20,000) and using an extra $22,000 currently in the cash balance, or reserves.
Councilman Howie Rosenfeld was adamant that both departments remain intact for as long as possible.
“We can afford to keep us relatively whole for the rest of year," Rosenfeld said. "At this point, we have a choice. And I want to fund these positions … In the priority of things, this rises to the top. If we have to take this from the cash balance, so be it."
Nou told the council about recent savings in his department and said he could continue to look for reductions. Despite boat repairs and a lengthy homicide investigation on San Juan Island, the department came in $44,500 under budget. A deputy on Orcas quit last November and the position has yet to be filled, which is a savings around $6,000 a month. He hopes to fill that vacancy by April 1.
In addition, long-time Orcas Island Sergeant Steve Vierthaler is retiring at the end of February. Nou said Vierthaler is at the "tippy top" of the pay scale, so his replacement will also bring the department some savings. It's the same scenario with a soon-to-be retired undersheriff on San Juan and a deputy on Lopez.
“The bottom line is that I need about $60,000 (reinstated)," Nou said. "That is based on the three-quarters that are left of this year and if the retirements go as expected."
Councilman Richard Fralick said Nou's request put the council in an "awkward" spot, as it's still waiting to hear what cuts could be coming down from Olympia. The legislative session ends in early March.
Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord asked the council for $21,000 to go back into his budget.
Councilman Jamie Stephens said he was "having a hard time" because he felt the prosecuting attorney's office has not made cuts like other departments have in the last few years.
"I don't feel that the prosecutor's office has shared the pain," he said.
Miller agreed with Stephens but felt the recent council's recent budget retreat "resonated" with Nou and Gaylord. She said they are projecting $1.3 million in reductions over the next six years unless there is a voter-approved levy lid lift or sales tax increase of .1 to .3 percent to pay for public safety.
"There will be more pain next year," she said. "The sheriff's department is the single-largest fund that we pay locally, so it's expected to take cuts."
Fralick added, "We have a serious financial problem. This is going to make it worse. We have to look at long-term financial sustainability. I want citizens to know that by us making this decision, it means making cuts in other departments."
Contact Islands Sounder Publisher, Editor Colleen Armstrong at email@example.com or 1-360-376-4500.