I attended the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners retreat today at the county campus. (Bunnies are back in the parking lot, I see. Thought they’d been eaten by raccoons.)
The big news coming out of the meeting was that the board is considering a tax measure for 2011. Two years ago, when the crumbling economy was getting too hard to ignore, Josh Brown, who is up for re-election this year, said the idea of raising taxes was not on the table. The message he and the rest of the board got was that any tax increase would be intolerable.
Brown, as I recall our discussion, did not preclude a tax hike proposal at some point in the future. Some day, he said, citizens may need to choose between maintaining an adequate level of services — including public safety — and avoiding a tax increase. What’s changed since then and now, said Brown and fellow commissioner Steve Bauer, is that the county has run out of ways to absorb revenue lost as a result of the recession and the cumulative effects of the 1 percent limit on property tax increases.
The discussion is still in its very early stages, and commissioners will be checking in with the public on the proposed tax measure, as well as other county issues.
Today’s meeting heralds budget season at the county. There will still be some give and take between the board and department heads as they hammer out the 2011 budget, but here are the commissioners’ other priorities (in no particular order).
Under the heading of “Land as a Resource”,” North Kitsap Legacy Partnership: The county must dedicate resources to the several departments involved in planning for a private-public development and land conservation project in North Kitsap.
Water as a Resource: The county wants to make conservation of water an ongoing priority. Kitsap County, unlike other areas of the state, relies solely on rainfall to replenish its aquifers. Even in our rain drenched area of the state, maintaining access to adequate clean water will require a concerted and well-coordinated effort, county officials say.
Financial and Service Sustainability (several related items
a. Performance measures: The commissioners want to institute performance measures to ensure that the county is getting the most bang for its buck. Bauer has been a strong proponent of this approach. Department heads have been measuring activities, but there’s been no monitoring, said county administrator Nancy Buonanno-Grennan. “They don’ generally measure meaningful things,” she said. “There’s not a lot of rigor to them.”
b. Compensation reform: The county will analyze its salaries to make sure its compensation is reasonably in line with private sector salaries.
c. Public Discourse on Services: The county will ask the public to weigh in on what services it wants and expects in unincorporated areas (this is related to annexation issues and the ballot measure issue below).
d. Annexation policies: The city will develop these in coordination with cities to make the process of annexation, with its trade-off of revenue and responsibilities more predictable.
e. Interaction with cities on annexation: The county will meet individually with leaders of Kitsap cities on their respective plans for annexing urban growth areas. They’ll be looking for a two-year plan of action to make the process more predictable for everyone.
f. Public outreach to urban growth areas: The county will try to inform citizens about changes they would see with annexation.
Under the heading of Resource Conservation/Economic Development/Green Jobs: South Kitsap Commissioner Chalotte Garrido is pushing for a regional effort to secure energy grants. (Garrido mentioned this initiative, already under way at the county level, as a possible model for performance measurements, since the county already has some experience in this area with grants that require measurable outcomes.)
Also under Resource Conservation, the county needs to have a sustainable business plan for its parks department, Garrido said, and it need to standardize its policies and procedures that affect all of the counties parks, even though they are quite different from one another. Garrido also wants to see some action on plans for South Kitsap parks including South Kitsap Regional Park and Howe Farm. Of SK Regional Park, Garrido said, “There should be things happening in that park with the funding that has been designated to it.” Bauer raised to possibility that the county some day may need to let go of parks altogether, which would require the formation of a municipal parks district.