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Commissioners hash out budget

Dig into county reserves

YAKIMA - Rejecting a bid to suspend pay raises, county commissioners on Tuesday bit the bullet and withdrew $335,000 from general reserves to balance the 2006 budget, which weighed in at $60 million.

The county's latest budget woes, after struggling with the new jail and ordering 4 percent budget cuts across the board, came when the state Attorney General issued an opinion that the county could not order a 4 percent budget cut in the law and justice departments.

The Attorney General's comments focused on the fact that, by reducing law and justice budgets by $335,000, the county had essentially redistributed the three-tenths of one percent sales tax voters approved for increased law and justice services.

As a result, a minimum of seven jobs will be lost in other county departments, while the sheriff's office will hire five additional deputies.

Sheriff Ken Irwin didn't see a problem with the dichotomy, given the voter approved sales tax increase. "Without law and justice you have nothing," Irwin said. "People will be hesitant to shop, work or live here if you don't have law enforcement."

At the same time, there was still the matter of 3 percent raises commissioners earlier agreed to for the assessor, auditor, treasurer, coroner, clerk and sheriff.

Commissioner Mike Leita saw a need to pull back on the pay raises, in comments he made Tuesday.

"The playing field has changed," Leita said. "I believe the budget can't accept more pay increases while at the same time reducing employees."

Commissioner Ron Gamache countered that it would be better to grant incremental raises now, rather than to wait and have to give a larger percent raise later.

For Commissioner Jesse Palacios, it was all about sticking to a commitment in leaving the pay raises in the budget. "Most of all I value my family and friends, but I also value my word," he said.

Palacios quizzed Human Resources Director Linda Dixon on a typical cost of living increase in the Yakima area. Though she didn't have county-wide figures, Dixon replied that she thought the Seattle area had a three or three-and-a-half cost of living increase.

Noting that Yakima's cost of living is less than Seattle, Palacios successfully motioned to have the raises trimmed from three to two-and-a-half percent.

That still didn't sit well with Leita, who opposed the motion. "I can't justify this dichotomy," he said. The motion passed, however, with favorable votes from Palacios and Gamache.

Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday. After that, they will not meet again until Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 10 a.m.

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