Former Budget Manager Speaks Out

This entry has been updated from its original format.

Arley Bright, former Kitsap County Budget manager, whose recent resignation was covered in the Kitsap Sun Aug. 23, was unhappy with the article, which, he said, made him look like a scapegoat for the county’s budget woes.

He sent a “response to your article” that he asked me to run as a letter to the editor. I earlier had that response posted on this entry, but since then Opinion Editor Jim Campbell has said he will not be running the letter because of “his frequent critical references to what he says somebody else said or did” which would require substantiation or allowing the person indirectly quoted to respond. I was, therefore, in error to post Arley’s letter here.

I will instead summarize what I heard Arley’s concern to be about the article. He felt that incoming budget manager Don Burger’s comments about giving the commissioners “straight answers” made it appear that Arley did not himself do so. Neither Arley nor Ben Holland, his supervisor, will comment on the reasons for his resignation. However, taking excerpts from Arley’s letter, here’s what he had to say about his track record during his tenure as budget manager for the county:

“First of all I always gave straight answers to the Commissioners when asked. … I will not take the blame for the County’s financial problems. I recommended a freeze on medical benefits and no COLA rather than 40 to 50 personnel RIF this year and a possible 25 personnel next year. Hard decisions were never made when I was there and it wasn’t going to change. So excuse me if I distance myself from that organization and I wish the citizens of this County a government that exhibits more fiscal responsibility and leadership in the future.

Arley Bright
Former Budget Manager
Kitsap County ”

5 thoughts on “Former Budget Manager Speaks Out

  1. One of the problems Kitsap County faces is high staff turnover, due in part to a salary/benefit scale that is not competetive with nearby cities and counties. Freezing benefits and salaries may help one part of the budget, but will not help the high cost of recruiting and training new staff because the old ones keep leaving to take better paid jobs elsewhere.

    Whether or not Mr. Bright gave “straight answers”, his plan was the same old, same old that has put a brain drain on the courthouse for a decade and more.

  2. Mr. Bright’s recommendation (“I recommended a freeze on medical benefits and no COLA rather than 40 to 50 personnel RIF this year and a possible 25 personnel next year.”) is something the voters ought to consider, whether our county commissioners want to do it or not.

    I believe the reductions in the numbers of county employees are the alternatives suggested by county government leaders in the event that a property tax lid lift is not approved by the voters in the near future.

    I would like to know more about the total compensation of county employees over the years (since at least 2001).

    The information should be detailed, like the information provided by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Notice how Table 3 and Table 5 at the BLS Web site make it possible to see the employers’ costs for state and local government employees and to compare them to private industry.

    We need to know the annual increases in total compensation — broken out into the several categories of the total compensation package.

    If we are to decide whether a tax increase is necessary, we must consider whether the total compensation of county employees is growing faster than we are willing or able to support through our taxes.

    Tables 3 and 5 at the BLS Web site don’t directly pertain to Kitsap County, since they are based on nationwide data. However, they suggest the possibility that our county government employees are receiving total compensation that is unjustifiably greater than the incomes of the people who aren’t working for the county but must pay the bills.

    Notice how state and local government “management” employees compare to private industry “management.” Total compensation is similar, with government employees earning $47.31 and private industry employees earning $46.05.

    But, when “all” employees are considered, government employees are paid significantly more.

    Probably, including “all” employees results in an invalid comparison to some extent, since there may be a different mix of skills, education, responsibilities, etc., in government and private industry.

    But, when health benefits are raised as a reason for a tax increase, one ought to wonder whether a government employee’s average health benefit of $4.22 an hour for “all” government employees is overly generous when compared to $1.83 an hour for “all” or $2.66 an hour for “management” in private industry.

    At some point, as suggested by Mr. Bright, the county has to decide whether total compensation is increasing at an unsustainable rate.

    Slowing the rate of increase could reasonably include limiting the increases paid by the county for health benefits and perhaps other parts of the compensation package.

  3. Jerry — Please spare us the infamous labor negotiation practice of benchmarks and comparables.

    The rising boat of escalating salaries for public employees, particularly mid and senior-level managers, is disappointing. What happened to the concept of public service?

    If a Kitsap county or local city employee would prefer to work for Ron Sims in King County because a comparable position pays 10 to 30% or more than one in Kitsap, bon voyage to the county employee. I don’t think we want those kinds of employees anyway.

    A port district recently advertised a position and had more than 200 applicants. I’m sure at least one of the applicants can handle the job. There’s no need to increase the compensation and benefits in Kitsap because King or Pierce County jacked up their employees’ salaries and now everyone else should have to meet the new comparable.

    Again, what happened to “service” in public service?!!

  4. Mike,

    The “service” in public service is no differnt than the “service” in the private sector. Good, motivated employees are the minority and come at a premium. If you don’t compensate them as well as the market, they will provide that “service” for your competitor.

    The costs of staff turnover are not trivial. Recruiting, training, paying out acrued leave benefits and then starting over is expensive. Meanwhile, the work does not get done. At some point on that curve, it is less expensive to provide the salary and benefits necessary to retain quality staff. That is simple economics that never seems to make it into the County budget calculus.

    Comparing the Port to the County is apples & oranges. How many positions in DCD have been open for how long without qualified applicants? The word is out: a pay scale well below the regional average, layoffs threatened and a negative work environment.

    Are there some inequities and artificially high salaries in some area? Likely so, but look at the turnover rate in the positions that directly serve the public and you will see that something is broken.

    If you want the County to compensate its staff at levels well below what they can receive a ferry ride or 45 minute drive away, then be prepared to accept the level of “service” you are willing to pay for.

    What happened to public service? It is alive and well, but more and more such people have too much self respect to accept the value Kitsap County is willing to place on their service.

  5. About a year ago the Evergreen Freedom Foundation placed on the web a data base that showed all county employees job titles and names along with each individuals pay and benefits. They did it for public school teachers also. The link is gone now, but I can tell you I was shocked at some of the numbers I saw for both county employees and for South Kitsap School teachers.

    Years ago I was Director of Human Resources for a Seattle area electronics firm. Employee groups can always bring in “comparables” showing higher pay and benefits. What they also refuse to acknowledge is that the numbers of those jobs are limited and they couldn’t run out and get one if they wanted to.

    Kitsap County should not be determining pay and benefits based on King and Pierce County who have much much larger resourses to tap. If you feel you have to use comparisons they must be to something that is truly comparible.

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