PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson County Public Health Department is the latest to make cuts because of a county general fund $100,000 revenue shortfall.
Employees are taking work furloughs and service reductions have been put in effect, said the director of the department Jean Baldwin, who added that it could see layoffs in 2010 unless the economic picture improves.
Baldwin said 15 of her 34 staffers have voluntarily taken furloughs this year, reducing weekly hours by at least two to help balance the $716,000 general fund budget for 2010 and her overall $4 million budget.
The furloughs have resulted in service reductions
“Some have been as high as eight hours a week,” Baldwin said, adding although she has not cut her own weekly hours, “but it’s not off the table.”
“Because of the recession I’m having to decrease in all revenue categories,” she said.
The latest development in the county’s ongoing budget crisis comes after all but two county elected department heads — Superior Court Judge Craddock Verser and District Court Judge Jill Landes — voluntarily took 6.25 percent salary cuts as proposed by county Administrator Philip Morley.
The judges sent out a joint statement Tuesday through District Court Administrator Tracie Wilburn explaining why they are opting not to take the voluntary pay reduction:
“The judiciary in Washington state has a governing body called the Board of Judicial Administration. They have taken the position that judges in this state should not take any reduction in salary. We are following the guidelines as set forth by that body.
“It is also our position that it would violate the Code of Judicial Conduct to donate money to the county as that action would impugn the integrity and independence of the judiciary in Jefferson County.”
Verser is paid $148,831 a year, while Landes is paid $141,710 annually, county Auditor Donna Eldridge said.
The auditor said that about half of Verser’s salary comes from the state while the county pays for all of the District Court judge’s salary and 49 percent of Prosecuting Attorney Juelie Dalzell’s salary with state matching funds.
She said the judges would not receive a cost-of-living adjustment of 3 percent starting this month.
The Washington Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials also sets judicial salaries.
Eldridge said that Dalzell returns $256.03 of her monthly paycheck, while Assessor Jack Westerman III, Treasurer Judi Morris and Court Clerk Ruth Gordon pay back $351.53 a month.
County commissioners David Sullivan and Phil Johnson pay back $332.95 a month and Commissioner John Austin pays back $313.52.
Morley said last month that county parks were at risk of closure as funds to maintain them dries up.
The county administrator said he will present a parks system proposal to the three county commissioners Sept. 28 after county Public Works Director Frank Gifford and Matt Tyler, county parks director, come up with a proposal.
A sagging construction market has resulted in nine layoffs since late last year at the county Department of Community Development.
Building permit revenues run about $250,000 short of projections during the harsh recession of 2009.
Al Scalf, Department of Community Development director, took a 10 percent pay cut, reducing his department to 11 employees, down from 25 staffers in 2008.
To finance water-quality monitoring in the county, the commissioners recently approved a $5 per parcel fee to fund its Clean Water District, a new revenue source that is not likely to change, she said.
Health department cuts
Baldwin said health department service reductions include:
• The Environmental Health office, with revenues down since late 2007, will be closed to the public on Fridays starting Oct. 2, with no new permits or food service reviews conducted on those days.
• The “Welcome Baby Program, in which Public Health nurses have called all families of newborns to offer support, education or services, has been stopped. Instead an online PT Babies chat group Web site has been formed at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PTbabies/
• Family Planning clinics decreased services one day a week by closing on Wednesdays this month.
• Public Health is working in partnership with Jefferson Healthcare hospital providers to see clients.
• Sexually transmitted infection services will continue for some high risk individuals but others will be referred to primary care providers.
Baldwin said the county Board of Health will review possible fee increases to generate more revenue for Public Health and Environmental Health, both of which are dependent on state health and federal pass-through dollars.
The Board of Health, which includes the three elected county commissioners, has approved a 13 percent fee increase on clinic service, such as family planning and immunizations.
Charges are based on income.
Baldwin said the department has reduced its staff by 3.6 full-time equivalent positions — two of which are in environmental health — since last year.
“I know in January, we will be be down one more position,” she said of the planned elimination of a medical records employee position that is being vacated.
Revenue of no more than $30,000 is generated by county health-related programs such as substance abuse and water quality, she said.
Baldwin said she saw a funding reduction of $70,000 in July from the state Department of Health and state Department of Social and Health Services.
Some state contracts coming up in 2010 may not be renewed, which could result in further service cuts.
“Some substance abuse money may disappear,” she said. “We’re one of the department where so much money is not from the general fund so we are subject to so mch more of the state and federal cuts.”
Morley said all county department budget proposals have been passed on to Eldridge, who will package them for the county administrator and county commissioners’ consideration.
________Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.