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Spokane County cuts offices’ hours

Slashed budgets, reduced staff mean reductions in service at courthouse

Starting Jan. 2, people who have business with Spokane County may want to check their watches before heading to the courthouse. Some offices are changing the hours they’ll be open to the public.

The offices of the county commissioners, treasurer, auditor, assessor and board of equalization will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday. The elections office for the county auditor will remain open until 4 p.m. Friday.

Spokane County district and superior courts will remain open until 5 p.m. weekdays. The Building and Planning offices will continue to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday but will close Friday.

The county needs to cut more than $10 million from next year’s budget. Most offices were told to cut between 10 percent and 11 percent from their budgets but had leeway in how they’d meet those goals.

For example, the treasurer and auditor offices have employees taking furloughs, or a certain number of days without pay. The assessor’s office had eight voluntary departures.

“We can’t stay at the same level of service,” Auditor Vicky Dalton said. “The general public has been fairly understanding. Our heavy customers like the title companies are not really happy about it.”

To handle all the work with less staff or fewer work days, some offices need to close to the public early and spend the remaining hours handling other duties, Dalton said. For example, the auto licensing department, which is part of her office, each day receives about 700 payments by mail for license plates or tab renewals. Unless workers at the counter can shift their attention from walk-in customers to those who file by mail, the mail registrations stack up.

Assessor Ralph Baker said he expects some negative public reaction, even though much of the information from his office is available on the county’s Web site and no longer requires a trip to the courthouse. Fewer people come in to request things such as tax exemptions for senior citizens, and foot traffic is down by about a third over the past six years, he said.

The changes will be in effect through 2010 unless the economy improves and, with it, tax revenues.

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