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New budget shortfall in Island County means more staff cuts

Island County is facing a budget shortfall of roughly $1 million due to falling investment earnings, and more staff cuts are likely in Coupeville, according to county officials.

The grim news was announced Tuesday afternoon at a staff session for Island County commissioners.

Commissioner John Dean, chairman of the board of commissioners, said the shortfall could mean the loss of roughly 20 positions.

Staff reductions could happen as early as June.

County officials said the size of the shortfall is still not certain.

"While it's preliminary, we do want people in our courthouse to know that this may be lying ahead," Dean said.

The $1 million shortfall follows a $2 million budget gap from late last year.

The county cut 31 positions in December to fill the $2 million hole in the 2009 budget. The cuts included jobs that were left unfilled and positions that were removed by attrition, and a total of 18 workers actually lost jobs. Eleven of those employees were full-time workers, while seven were part-time.

Dean said the impending cuts likely will include a noticeable loss in county services.

Public hours for county offices may be cut. County Treasurer Linda Riffe has already requested a reduction in the hours her office is open to the public.

"I would predict people are going to see a reduction of public service, not because we're lazy or hiding behind the doors, but because we have limited staff," Dean said.

"The courthouse is staffed from 8 to 4:30; the office hours for the public may be something like 10 to 3, 9 to 3, but we haven't decided that yet," Dean said.

"We want it to be consistent through the whole courthouse; that's another discussion we're having," he said.

Cuts in service may happen by March 1, Dean said.

The county is not looking at across-the-board cuts. Instead, commissioners are asking department heads to identify the priorities in their departments, and officials will also look at ways for county departments to work together.

With the impending departure of Planning Director Jeff Tate, who is resigning effective March 2, Dean said the county has decided to make Keith Higman, the county's health department director, interim director of the planning department. Higman will continue to oversee the health department, as well.

Commissioners are expected to talk about the budget problem at a commissioners' retreat on Feb. 13 in Coupeville.

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