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Supervisors call for 15% cuts in programs

In an attempt to get control of the 2007 funding process from the start, Pierce County's finance committee voted Monday night to direct each department to prepare a plan to cut its budget 15 percent.

Each department is to set internal priorities, offering cuts in areas less important to the department. The plan must also include an analysis of the impact of the cuts. The finance and personnel committee then expects to set overall priorities before sending the total package to the county board.

"We provide more services than we can afford, and we have to prioritize what services we will offer," said finance committee member Jeff Holst, summarizing the task facing the county board.

Last year, the state implemented property tax levy caps allowing a county to raise its tax based on the value of new construction, figuring taxes on those new buildings will cover the increase and owners of existing homes will see no tax increase. The rate of increase allowed by the state for 2007 won't be known until late summer.

According to a memo from Administrative Coordinator Curt Kephart and Finance Director Julie Brickner, because of ever-increasing costs, simply doing business as usual will result in a property tax levy that is $200,000 above the highest anticipated cap.

"You ask these departments to cut in haste, and then we can repent at leisure," warned County Board Chairman Paul Barkla, who questioned both the size of the cuts requested and asking departments to submit their proposals to the finance committee by the first week in August.

Barkla recommended asking for minimum department-wide cuts of five percent.

The human services department, which accounts for a third of the county budget, is probably one place that can't be cut, said Supervisor Rich Purdy.

Supervisor Ron Lockwood indicated the cut amount the committee sets is a goal.

"Which (goal) we choose may or may not be that important," agreed Purdy. The main message needs to be the county has to save some money, he said.

Last year, the county board set a no-increase goal when it kicked off the budget process, but a mixed message was sent to departments, said Barkla. He said that created a "wink-wink, nod-nod situation" and in the end supervisors had to do their own trimming.

"I think that anything we do (this year) is a stop-gap measure," said Holst. He said the county board and administrators have to seriously look at how the county does business, setting priorities and cutting programs as necessary.

In the past, "making a cut" meant reducing the increase, warned Kephart.

He said supervisors need to be clear they are not asking for "a cut in the increase." Kephart asked there be no ambiguity in budget instructions given to the departments.

Barkla's proposal to ask departments for minimum cuts of five percent was defeated. The committee instead voted to request 15 percent decreases.