Reflecting on the Commissioners’ Retreat

Reporter Brynn Grimley writes:

Now that I’ve had some time to rest and give my brain a break after a long day Friday, I wanted to include some more information about the county commissioners’ retreat, held Jan. 23 in Quilcene.

Because the board met and discussed county operations for 8 hours, it’s easiest for me to bullet some of the major discussion points, instead of trying to write out in paragraph form what was discussed.

But first, an intro into the meeting. The board hired consultants Richard and Anna Linzer to act as facilitators for the meeting. The couple — originally Indianola residents — opened their home for the three-member board. (If you’d like to see more about the Linzer’s, visit their web site, which includes a lengthy list of other organizations — government and non-profit alike — that they have worked with).

The board met with the couple Thursday night over dinner, where they received their workbooks and their homework for the Friday retreat. Come Friday the board was prepared with “scores” which assessed their leadership styles and personalities. Knowing these allowed the individual members the opportunity to learn how their counterparts operate, and how to work with differing leadership styles. (I have to say after hearing the assessments, based on my coverage of the commissioners — minus Charlotte Garrido because she’s new to the board since I’ve bee at the Sun — they were pretty spot-on.)

Once they got through the assessments and some other preliminary steps, the board jumped right in to their future vision for the county in the year to come, and further out.

In the future CK Commissioner Josh Brown sees the county transitioning from its current status of offering an urban level of services, to reducing its role to a regional level and offering less services as Urban Growth Areas incorporate and annex more neighborhoods.

All commissioners agreed the financial crisis and smart budgeting is the most pressing issue facing the county. To handle the issues that will face the county as the economy continues to struggle, the board decided it was important to make sure all county department heads and elected officials were working in conjunction with the board’s vision, so that everyone is on the same page.

To do that, the board expressed a desire to strengthen the existing relationships with elected officials. With additional budget cuts a likely scenario as the county prepares to balance yet another budget during difficult times, the commissioners want to work with staff on those cuts, instead of giving them short notice to make the cuts.

The board discussed “sustainability” but noted the word has a different meaning for every person who speaks it. North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer sees sustainability as meaning the need to balance growth as more people move to Kitsap from King County. As he put it, he wants to take the good that’s been done in King County and implement it in Kitsap, but leave out all the bad.

All the commissioners agreed protecting the environment and natural systems was important to Kitsap citizens and they plan to continue to look at policies that will do that. The board also wants to improve its relationships with area cities and jurisdictions, so that all organizations are working together as annexations and incorporations happen in the future. Better communication will hopefully translate to a smooth transition of service, Brown said.

The board also discussed the roles of the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and Kitsap Transit Advisory Board. There are currently areas of overlap between the two boards, and the commissioners would like see less of that and more action taken.

Here are other key issues discussed at the retreat:

* Weathering the difficult economic times and being creative with a solution, which includes public and staff participation; commissioner Bauer noted the 1 percent cap on revenue increases next year will result in the loss of between $1 million an $1.5 million in revenues that could have helped the county meet its budget — sales tax will not make up for this loss. Because of this, the board needs to find a solution to cover this loss, along with other cuts and Bauer plans to begin looking at the budget immediately to begin finding more ways to save money;

* Speaking of finances, Bauer also noted the state Legislature has shown little sensitivity to the financial woes of county governments this year, and as a result of state economic hard times has actually increased unfunded mandates. The board will have to get around this and find a solution, Bauer hopes with the help of the public. Reality is the board will need to start looking at services and programs offered and prioritize those, which means commissioners could be making some “ugly” cuts to survive;

* Planning for a smooth transition from offering an urban level of services to rural and being prepared for growth;

* Working with area cities to accomplish a goal of coordination so the best interest of the county on the whole is recognized (the board doesn’t want to tell cities what to do, but to work with their officials);

* The commissioners would like to see more done with boards — like the KRCC and Kitsap Transit — to accomplish policies discussed and implemented by the board;

* The board would like to narrow the planning field for what they are responsible for so they can accomplish more — meaning less times sitting in informational meetings, and more time discussing and implementing policies.

The board planned to begin its implementation of some of these ideas effective today.

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