Jefferson County asks its workers to cut hours in light of impending ‘budget challenge’

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County’s 320 employees are being offered the option of voluntarily cutting four hours from their work week because of a “budget challenge.”

Interim county Administrator Dennis Richards said on the eve of the Labor Day weekend that between eight and 10 staff openings have been left unfilled, and more positions may have to remain open, at least until the 2009 budget is balanced.

Department heads have been asked to each cut $100,000 from their budgets, said Richards, calling it a “pretty serious whack.”

“These steps are just the beginning chapter in a tough 2009 budget challenge,” Richards said in a written statement released Thursday.

“Citizens of the county will no doubt see other cutbacks while we make attempts to balance the budget.”

Richards said he had no specific figures showing the shortfall, but that the general trend is that revenues are down while expenses are climbing.

Allen Sartin, county finance director, was not available on Thursday. Neither were any of the three Jefferson County Commissioners.

The budget crunch, Richards said, is the result of higher costs of fuel, asphalt and transportation; lower revenues from sales, excise and real estate taxes; a loss of tax revenue caused by a slow housing construction market; diminishing federal grant funds and Secured Rural School funding losses.

“As Jefferson County elected officials and departments prepare for the 2009 budget process, they clearly recognize the nationwide recession has greatly impacted the budgets of this county,” Richards said in the statement.

Up to five employees in county Public Health already have voluntarily cut their hours to 36 a week, said Richards, an act that preserves their benefits.

The county is not filling vacant staff positions, is limiting training and travel to only that which is mandatory, asking employees to voluntarily work four nine-hour days a week and restrict driving of county vehicles whenever possible.

Richards is also calling for staff to work together to share resources.

Richards said the county would not know how many county employees would be needed to pare back their hours until the county commissioners and department heads try to balance the budget.

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