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County board endorses 15 percent cut directive

The Pierce County Board voted last week to endorse a committee plan directing department heads to prepare 2007 budgets that show how their department's local tax levy spending can be cut 15 percent.

The departments are to also show the impact of potential cuts. The intent, said Administrative Coordinator Curt Kephart, is to give supervisors a starting point for setting priorities as they work to stay under state-mandated tax levy limits.

County Board Chairman Paul Barkla said he expects every department to make a good faith effort to come up with proposals that could save 15 percent.

"It causes us to re-examine how we do business," said Kephart. Not every program will see a 15 percent cut in funding, but the county has to set priorities, he said.

"We spend more money than we bring in," said Finance and Personnel Committee member Jeff Holst, insisting Pierce County can't continue to operate as it has in the past.

He said in 2004 and 2005 the county had $2 million in budget overruns and had to take that money from reserves.

"That's unacceptable," said Holst. The directive challenges department heads and committees "to recreate the way that the pie is cut," he said.

"We have to address this," said Holst. "We're going down a road that we can't return."

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 jump. The rate of increase allowed by the state for 2007 won't be known until late summer.

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

"I do have a problem with 15 percent if we are going to take away services that citizens of Pierce County need," said Supervisor Jerry Kosin. He said he hardly ever gets phone calls about county business, but this issue generated calls.

Supervisors don't intend to cut every budget by 15 percent, replied Finance and Personnel Committee Member Ron Lockwood. What they do want, he said, is for department heads to identify lower priority programs.

Supervisors Don Nellessen, Spring Valley, and Chip Simones, Prescott, were the only ones to vote against the motion.