Commissioners approve 2013 budget with 5 percent cut for all departments

2012-12-11T20:30:00Z 2013-02-04T18:24:40Z Commissioners approve 2013 budget with 5 percent cut for all departmentsBy Barbara LaBoe / The Daily News Longview Daily News
December 11, 2012 8:30 pm  • 

Cowlitz County commissioners slashed all county department budgets by 5 percent Tuesday, a move that several department heads said will cause layoffs.

Commissioners unanimously approved a $43 million general fund budget for 2013, which includes $2 million saved through the 5 percent across-the-board reduction. They also used $2 million in cash reserves to balance the books, a move they said will leave county reserves at potentially “dangerous” levels. The 2012 general fund budget is $44 million.

Though the county has been cutting spending sharply several years, commissioners said they’re asking all departments to reduce spending further and not fill vacant positions.

“We’re faced with a terrible dilemma,” Commissioner George Raiter said. If commissioners had made the cuts themselves, though, he said department heads might be even more upset.

Department heads learned of the 5 percent cuts Monday and several testified Tuesday they didn’t have enough time to respond. They also said the cuts will mean layoffs and could, in the case of Superior Court, lead to legal challenges.

“I don’t have 5 percent to cut without doing some real serious damage,” said Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning, adding that commissioners need to decide between needed programs and “ones that are nice to have.”

By law, department heads who knowingly overspend budgets can be held personally liable for the difference, Finance Manager Claire Hauge said after the meeting. Superior Court judges, though, can issue a court order to compel commissioners to increase their budgets. Hauge said she hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but Warning did mention “other, more expensive options” if he and commissioners couldn’t come to agreement.

Sheriff Mark Nelson said there’s no way he can make the cuts without cutting staff. “People keep telling me we need more cops,” he told commissioners. “I do have some great concerns about this.”

County Clerk Bev Little said her staff already can’t meet all the requirements of the courts and certainly won’t be able to if she’s forced to cut another position.

“I just don’t know how we’re going to function and do our state-mandated duties,” she said. “It’s not fair to our employees to be so overworked and overstressed. They need some relief in this matter, not more cuts.”

“This is a difficult situation, we all understand that,” Commissioner Mike Karnofski said. “This is not perfect, it’s not what we’d like to do, but it’s the best we can do at this time.”

The general fund budget leaves the county with just 8 percent of its budget as “cash on hand,” which is the money used to pay bills between tax collections in the spring and fall. Ideally the county wants 10 percent in reserves, but that wasn’t possible this year, officials said.

“That’s very dangerous,” Hauge said. “It’s going to be a rocky 2014.”

Top 10 Cowlitz County Salaries

Position: 2012 salary — 2013 salary  Percent increase

1. Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning: $148,832 — $148,824 — 0% *

1. Superior Court Judge Marilyn Nitteberg-Haan: $148,832 — $148,824 — 0% *

1. Superior Court Judge Michael Evans: $148,832 — $148,824 — 0% *

1. Superior Court Judge Gary Bashor: $148,832 — $148,824 — 0% *

2. District Court Judge Ed Putka: $141,710 — $141,708 — 0% **

2. District Court Judge Ronald Marshall: $141,710 — $141,708 — 0% **

2. District Court Judge David Koss: $141,710 — $141,708 — 0% **

3. Prosecuting Attorney Sue Baur: $133,932 — $133,932 — 0% *

4. Public Works Director Kent Cash: $118,056 — $119,568 — 1.3%

5. Public Defense Director Terry Mulligan: $114,120 — $115,584 — 1.3%

6. Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Shaffer: $112,428 — $113,868 — 1.3%

6. Asset Management and Sustainability Director Ken Stone: $112,428 — $113,868 — 1.3%

7. Finance Director Claire Hauge: $105,732 — $107,088 — 1.3%

8. Public Works Deputy Director Brad Bastin: $102,447 — $106,419 — 3.9% +

8. Chief Civil Deputy Douglas Jensen: $98,376 — $106,419 — 8.2% +

9. Human Resources Director Jim Zdilar: $98,004 — $101,796 — 3.9% +

10. Building and Planning Director Mike Wojtowicz: $99,048 — $100,320 — 1.3%

10. Health and Human Services Director Carlos Carreon: $99,048 — $100,320 — 1.3%

10. Facilities Director Ron Junker: $96,576 — $100,320 — 3.9% +

* Set by salary commission, state pays a portion

** Set by salary commission

+ Step increase for moving up on longevity and salary schedule

Copyright 2016 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. infantry52
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    infantry52 - December 12, 2012 2:31 am
    From the median income of a cowlitz county resident is 23,575 and for Washington state it is 30,481. That means our top paid government employee, a public servant, is making more than six times the average for a person of this county. Why should tax dollars be supporting inequality of this magnitude? I believe government salaries should be capped at 150% of median wage. Maybe this will push politicians to actually create jobs.
  2. unbelievable
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    unbelievable - December 12, 2012 10:30 am
    infantry52 - Do you really believe that someone who goes to college for 7 or more years to become a lawyer, then works as a lawyer for 10 or more years and eventually becomes a judge should be paid $45k per year because they are a public servant? Bear in mind, $45k is much less than the average mill job that requires no education. If you were in charge of hiring these high paid positions (non-elected obviously), with qualified people, at no more than $45k per year, how do you think you would do?
  3. savant
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    savant - December 12, 2012 11:20 am
    Money problems in Cowlitz County, who would of thunk. Just recently they couldn't give money to the gun club fast enough. Small minds.
  4. SkiBum
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    SkiBum - December 12, 2012 12:34 pm
    I hope the leadership at the PUD and their Commissioners all take note of this article. They could learn a thing or two about managing a budget. The County Commissioner could easily have taken the easy way out and ordered increased taxes. But they are doing what's right. If you can't pay the bills, then lower the costs. Even our federal politicians are learning this the hard way. Why is it so tough for the PUD to understand this concept?
  5. crowsfoot
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    crowsfoot - December 12, 2012 1:25 pm
    With a little medical MJ we can all ease back and let this era pass.
  6. cakemaker2000
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    cakemaker2000 - December 12, 2012 1:28 pm
    the commissioners should take a 50% pay cut!!
  7. iknownothing
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    iknownothing - December 12, 2012 5:01 pm
    Why is it in this area, people have the jealosy, ignorance, and narrow minded thinking that since some people are struggling they think that everyone should struggle right along with them? If you are unhappy with your economic situation then do something about it and start making better decisions in your life! People who made and are making decisions to get an education or work towards a good paying job should not be criticized for it! The PUD and county are also two different entities.
  8. infantry52
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    infantry52 - December 13, 2012 12:16 am
    unbelievable I stand by what I said. Jobs that are paid for by tax dollars should not pay enough to put someone in a situation to be that far above the people that pay their wages. If you want to be a Judge do it for want of justice not to get rich. If you want to get rich go to a private sector job not a government job.
  9. infantry52
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    infantry52 - December 13, 2012 12:25 am
    iknownothing I happen to be college educated and rather well off. What I said did not come out of jealosy, ignorance or narrow minded thinking it came from reality. 45k a year for an individual is not struggling. For a working household thats 90k a year. The old adage of work hard and get ahead doesnt apply the same way it did years ago Walk through downtown Portland and tell me how many people sleeping on a sidewalk will be able to rise from their situation.
  10. onecitizen
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    onecitizen - December 13, 2012 10:23 pm
    How is it that the hard working employees that do the real work get paid 1/3 of the directors’ salary and they are the ones who will be loosing their jobs? Why not get rid of some of those highly paid directors. That’s at least one million saved right there. Or maybe they should do their jobs and figure some sort of new revenue and fix the problem. Making cuts does not solve the problem. What about next year? Another five percent. You are just laying more people off and in turn increasing the problem by have tax payers that can no longer pay taxes due to their job loss.
  11. Harley_Rider
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    Harley_Rider - December 26, 2012 5:57 am
    What is wrong with a 5% across the board pay cut for all County employee's? That action has been done in many cities and states!
  12. onecitizen
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    onecitizen - December 26, 2012 3:52 pm
    The commissioners didn't even make the list of top paid employees.
  13. scottej
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    scottej - May 16, 2013 12:54 pm
    Because the ones making decisions, poor ones at that, are making exorbitant sums of money to not do their job. How many employers in this world would allow their workers to not do their job, then get a pay increase on top. Not jealous, ignorant, or narrow minded. But I require that my elected officials, and the cronies they make directors, do their jobs in service of this counties citizens not a pay increase so they can lay-off workers in the name of budget cuts.
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