Mason County sheriff warns proposed budget cuts too deep into public safety

SHELTON, Wash. – A budget crisis in one South Sound community could mean drastic cuts to a host of public services.

Mason County’s top cop is sounding the alarm, saying the proposed cuts to his budget could jeopardize public safety.

The budget shortfall has been brewing for a while but now county departments are being told to find a way to help close a nearly $2 million gap.

Animal Control Officer Cindy Brewer has been working in the department for close to two decades.

But if the sheriff has to make cuts proposed by the county commission, her job and K-9 Officer Jake’s job will likely be one of the first to go.

“I could be out of a job,” she said. “We don’t know what would happen.”

“There are no easy, fair or equitable (ways) to cut $2 million in the middle of July,” said Mason County Commission Chairman Kevin Shutty.

Citing the county’s sewer project in Belfair, union contracts, and what he calls a bloated county staff, Shutty said a series of circumstances have grown into the perfect storm – and a big-time budget shortfall.

“We’ll take 7.3% of that this year and then we’ll be looking at another 10% next year,” he said.

“It’s going to hurt,” said Sheriff Casey Salisbury. “It’s going to hurt a long time.”

Salisbury said the cuts are too deep. He added he’s being asked to freeze about 9 unfilled positions but another concern is that he may have to lay off employees, many who were only recently hired.

“We’re losing some of the best police officers in the state of Washington,” he said. “Our people are finishing at the top of their class.”

It’s not just the sheriff’s office, Shutty said departments across the county are being asked to make cuts.

He plans to change the county’s yearly budget into a two-year model like the state to help stay on top of expenses.

“This is an opportunity to hit the reset button and look at how we manage the taxpayers' dollars,” said Shutty.

“There were indicators of this that they should have seen,” claimed Salisbury.

The sheriff also complained he only learned the magnitude of the budget cuts late last week. Now he worries crime rates his department has brought down could return to 2008 levels if he’s forced to lay off officers.

“What are you going to have left out there?” he said. “Who are you going to call?”

The proposed cuts are still in draft and could change.

Neighbors in Mason County still have a chance to voice their opinion. There’s a commission meeting Tuesday morning and a public hearing about the cuts are scheduled later in July.