Administrative costs of building a Jefferson County charter estimated at $83,900
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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Philip Morley released what he characterized as a draft budget for 2014, which provides for up to 18 meetings of a board of freeholders leading up to a charter election in the fall of 2014.
On Nov. 5, voters in Jefferson County will decide whether the county should begin the home-rule charter process and also vote for five freeholders in each of the three county commissioner districts.
Ballots in the all-mail election will be mailed to registered voters Wednesday.
If voters reject the measure to begin the charter process, then electing 15 freeholders out of a field of about 50 will become moot.
If the measure, County Proposition 1, passes, the elected freeholders would be charged with writing by June 20, 2015, a county charter that must be approved by the voters before it becomes a new blueprint for Jefferson County government.
Home-rule charters are permitted by the state constitution as a way for counties to provide forms of government that might differ from the commission form prescribed by state law.
Six counties in the state have adopted home-rule charters, including Clallam County.
The most costly single item in Morley’s estimate is $41,000 for salaries and benefits for county employees involved in the process.
The second largest line item is $35,100 for the publication of meeting notices and, when the process is completed, the charter itself.
The state constitution requires the full publication of the proposed charter four times in both local newspapers prior to election day.
The county solicited publication estimates from both the Peninsula Daily News and the Port Townsend/Jefferson County Leader, with the PDN submitting a cost of $7,000 per insertion for a $28,000 total cost and the Leader estimating $1,705 per insertion.
The cost may vary because the estimate used the 22-page Clallam County Charter as a benchmark, Morley said.
The rates are set by the individual newspapers.
Other expenses are office supplies, $600; postage, $50; travel, $500; printing and binding. $1,500; election costs, $1,700, interfund professional services, $1,000, and miscellaneous expenses, $2,350.
If the charter process begins the freeholders will have until June 20, 2015, to complete the charter document, after which time it will be approved or rejected by voters at the next scheduled election.
For the charter to appear on the November 2014 ballot, the document would need to be completed by August 2014, which is sooner than projected by many of the freeholder candidates.
If the charter does not appear on the November 2014 ballot, then election and advertising costs would be deferred to the next year while administrative costs would increase to accommodate the additional meetings, Morley said.
On Monday, spokespeople both for and against Proposition 1 responded to the numbers — one accepting the estimate as reasonable while the other stating it is inflated.
“I think this is a reasonable estimate of the cost of the process,” said Bruce Cowan, who is lobbying against the measure.
“It was unreasonable to think we could have done this on a shoestring, as some of those favoring the charter have suggested.
“This is a government function. If we enter the process, then we need to follow the guidelines that are in place to protect the public interest.”
Val Phimister, a spokesperson for the Community Rights Coalition, which gathered the signatures to get the measure on the ballot, disputed the figures.
“Philip Morley was doing his due diligence in supplying this number, but I think he padded the estimate with every possible cost and came up with the highest possible estimate,” Phimister said.
“I don’t think we need to spend all that money but I’m glad to have this number because it puts things into perspective.”
Phimister said that by using Morley’s estimate, the cost of the charter is amortized to $1.42 per person for the next two years.
“This is a worthwhile amount to pay for having my voice heard,” Phimister said.
Morley said he had not projected any margins for error into his estimates, basing the staff expenses on the costs incurred by the Planning Commission, which is a similar panel to the freeholder board.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.
Last modified: October 14. 2013 6:32PM