Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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County to cut services, hike tax 1%

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Tom Mielke
Opposed tax hike
Tom Mielke Opposed tax hike Photo Gallery

To save jobs, sheriff’s workers likely to approve concessions

Clark County commissioners agreed Thursday on a wide-ranging cut to many local services and a 1 percent property tax hike that will go mostly to preserve law enforcement.

A pair of possible salary concessions from workers in the county sheriff’s office took some of the bite out.

But those savings, which so far total $325,000, were far from enough to prevent $12.5 million in service cuts and fee hikes, 11 percent of the county’s general fund for 2010. The cuts will affect everything from the quality of court files during legal hearings to the price of a picnic at Frenchman’s Bar next summer.

“We are going to govern differently, or we will not survive,” said Commissioner Marc Boldt, calling on local governments to share more services, such as K-9 units.

Commissioners agreed Wednesday and Thursday to several last-minute expenditures for small areas such as trauma intervention and code enforcement.

They also took steps that might prevent all layoffs among street deputies and jail officers, though the cuts will still eliminate 14 vacant positions among the sheriff’s street and jail officers.

Raise sacrificed

A spokesman for the custody officers’ guild said Wednesday that the jail officers are willing to sacrifice their contractual 3.25 percent salary raise in 2010.

The move, which would not be accompanied by any other change to their contract, would save $325,000, enough to keep five jail officers employed next year.

That’ll soften an expected drop in booking standards and “keep more criminals in jail,” guild president Timothy Shotwell said.

The sheriff’s office is hoping for another $500,000 in savings from a medical contract about to be signed for jail inmates’ care. That would save the other nine endangered jail guards.

The street deputies’ guild, meanwhile, is considering a two-year salary freeze. The savings would be more than enough to keep seven deputies on the streets next year.

With that in mind, commissioners and the sheriff agreed to keep the seven deputies employed through March 31. Deputies’ contract negotiations continue.

County managers’ salaries have also been frozen.

Tax hike debated

Commissioners voted 2-1 to raise the county’s general-fund levy by 1 percent. The levy pays for discretionary services such as cops, courts and computers.

It’ll bring in $966,000 from the county’s property owners, though property owners whose assessments are dropping faster than average will still see their taxes drop.

Boldt, a Republican, and Steve Stuart, a Democrat, backed the hike.

“It’s worth it,” Boldt said. “It’s necessary.”

Opposing the hike was Commissioner Tom Mielke, also a Republican, who on Tuesday said he’d support the tax hike but changed his mind.

It was clear by Tuesday that Boldt and Stuart would support the tax hike with or without Mielke’s vote.

“I made a pledge, and by God I held to it,” Mielke said, referring to a campaign promise not to raise taxes.

Mielke said after Thursday’s vote that he couldn’t identify $966,000 in cuts that he would have made if the county hadn’t hiked property taxes.

“Do I think there’s still things that could be fixed?” Mielke said. “Yes.”

Mielke criticized an annual county retirement bonus for top managers.

“You’d like to think that when a guy says, ‘My check is $100,000,’ (it’s) not $100,000 plus 2½ percent for retirement,” he said.

Boldt and Stuart shrugged off criticism by some residents of those retirement bonuses. Commissioners also dismissed talk by some county workers about their own $400 monthly car allowances, which are cumulative with 55-cent mileage reimbursements.

Stuart observed that a set of five possible cuts mentioned by anonymous county managers, reported in a Columbian story Monday, would amount to less than 0.06 percent of the $12.5 million in needed savings.

Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or michael.andersen@columbian.com.

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