King County budget approved one week earlier than expected

While the King County Council wasn’t expected to take a final budget vote until next Monday – they did it today. Here’s the official news release with the announcement:

The Metropolitan King County Council today adopted a $5.1 billion 2011 King County Budget that reflects the painful choices made to produce a balanced budget, but maintains core public safety services and protects survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The adopted budget includes a $621 million general fund budget, of which 76 percent is directed toward public safety and criminal justice programs. The proposed budget protects the County’s AAA bond rating by not using the County’s cash reserves or tapping the rainy day fund.

“King County government made the difficult choices necessary to balance our budget. We went through this budget line-by-line to cut spending in the most responsible way possible, just as many individuals and families everywhere are doing with their own household budgets,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “Given the fiscal challenges we are facing, this budget does all it can to protect public safety, maintain the quality of life in our communities, and protect our most vulnerable residents.”

“The budget cuts this year have been softened by the willingness of our labor partners/employees to ‘share the pain,’” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Vice Chair of the Budget Leadership Team. “We are most grateful to our county bargaining units that agreed to forego cost-of-living increases for 2011. This allowed us to create a $1.5 million emergency reserve fund for criminal justice needs, as well as to restore domestic violence and sexual assault funding and special court advocate programs that help people survive in turbulent times.”
“We had to make extremely difficult choices in this budget and use our limited resources to protect as many residents of King County as possible,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett a member of the Budget Leadership Team. “Law enforcement is an important aspect of providing public safety in our communities. However, public safety also includes providing human services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, alternatives to incarceration programs to reduce the numbers of people in the King County jail, and public health clinics to provide essential medical care to the most marginalized in our community. That is the true meaning of public safety.”

Following the Budget Leadership Team’s theme of “Balancing the Budget, Sharing the Pain,” the cuts made to close the $60 million shortfall in the 2011 budget will be felt throughout King County. More than 300 county positions have been eliminated. The King County Sheriff will lose 28 deputies and County Prosecutors will lose 16 attorneys and those that remain will see an increase in their caseloads. In the Superior and District Courts, 28 positions were eliminated, reducing probation services in both courts, and shrinking the services provided by court clerks and court reporters. There is no funding available for the replacement of the County’s aging Youth Services Center.

Human Service programs that traditionally received some county support were also cut. There is no general fund contribution to services for at-risk mothers, early learning or after school programs.

The 2011 budget preserves programs that prevent domestic violence and sexual assault by investing a portion of the savings created by County employees giving up their cost of living adjustments (COLAs). All but one County bargaining unit, the King County Sheriff Deputies, agreed to give up their negotiated COLAs, preserving $23.5 million in services across all county agencies for 2011. Of that amount, $6.1 million of the savings was in the general fund, making it available to provide limited funding to these programs. Funds were also made available to maintain, Step Up, a program that assists families impacted by juvenile domestic violence.

In all, the COLA concessions allowed the Council to save or partially save eight Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys, as well as public defenders, corrections officers, alternatives to incarceration programs and other vital public safety services. Working with the Superior Court, the Council also preserved funding for family services provided by the court, such as mediation, parent coaching and evaluation and child advocacy to troubled families.

“This balanced budget reflects the consensus of seven Council members representing a wide political spectrum,” said Council Chair Bob Ferguson. “These seven members worked throughout the process, never quitting despite difficult negotiations, and agreed on a budget consistent with this tough economy.”

“This is a painful budget made more manageable by the vast majority of King County employees’ willingness to sacrifice cost of living wages they were legally entitled to in order to preserve public services and jobs,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “We’re adopting a responsible budget plan given the economic climate that we’re dealing with, but it will mean King County residents—particularly the most vulnerable—will have less access to services.”

“This was an extremely difficult budget—by far the most difficult budget I’ve dealt with in the 17 years I’ve been involved in local government,” said Councilmember Jan Drago. “I was very impressed with the level of collaboration from my County Council colleagues and from Executive Dow Constantine these last eight weeks, and together, we were able to work through these daunting challenges because of our commitment to public service and our willingness to collaborate.”

Highlights of the 2011 Budget:

King County Sheriff Office: The adopted budget restores several positions in the Sheriff’s office using savings from sheriff captains and court protection marshals that agreed to forgo their cost of living adjustment increase for 2011. These positions include a fire investigator, a records and evidence specialist, and two communications operators in the 911 call center. The budget also directs the sheriff to prioritize the equivalent of two deputy positions for investigation of property crimes.

Criminal Justice Reserve: To balance the budget, the council made necessary cuts to the criminal justice agencies. The adopted budget has $1.5 million in reserve to ensure that the county is in position to quickly respond to the most pressing and emergent criminal justice and public safety needs in 2011.

Protecting the Vulnerable: Along with the county’s continuing support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, the budget takes a proactive approach to the growing youth prostitution problem, providing shelter beds that will help take youths off the streets, away from prostitution.

AAA Bond rating: The credit rating agencies recently reaffirmed the county’s AAA bond rating. Through fiscal restraint, the council has not spent any of the county’s $15 million rainy day fund or any of its six percent cash reserve, which amounts to an additional $31 million in reserves. These cash reserves prepare the county for unforeseen emergencies and are vital to maintain the county’s high credit rating, which saves taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

One more County Council note: Our area’s newly elected King County Councilmember, Joe McDermott, is expected to be sworn in a week from tomorrow, after the election results are certified. He will serve the remaining year of what was King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s unexpired County Council term, and then would have to run for re-election again next year; the 2nd-place finisher in this year’s race, Diana Toledo, says she will run again next year.

ADDED 6:27 PM: The two County Councilmembers who voted against the budget have sent out a news release of their own:

The Metropolitan King County Council today adopted the 2011 budget on a 7-2 vote with Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voting no. These Councilmembers cited the systematic dismantling of King County’s criminal justice system for their vote against the budget.

“The 300,000 residents of King County will now have to live with 28 fewer sheriff deputies than last year,” said Dunn, Chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “I cannot vote for a budget that does not first protect public safety before funding non-mandatory programs.”

“The people of South King County want more law enforcement not less,” said von Reichbauer. “Crime is a growing issue for my constituents and I want more officers on the street and more prosecutors in the courtroom.”

This summer, Councilmember Dunn with support from Councilmember von Reichbauer, offered a plan to fund criminal justice that was tax neutral in that the average taxpayer would have paid no new taxes. Instead of adopting this plan, the Council chose to put Proposition 1, a straight two-tenths of one percent sales tax, on the ballot with no offsets. Proposition 1 failed by more than 10 percentage points, leaving King County with a $60 million deficit.

“The taxpayers of this county are struggling and they are looking to the Council for solutions,” said Dunn. “I tried to offer some reasonable alternatives but my ideas were not taken seriously. Now we have a budget before us that makes people less safe.”

Councilmember Dunn was a member of the Budget Leadership Team but walked out after being told that no Sheriff’s deputies would be restored in the budget. The Budget Leadership Team sited the fact that the King County Police Officers Guild (KCPOG) refused to forego their cost of living increases to save jobs within that department as a reason for that decision.

“I am not going to defend the Sheriff’s union for not giving up their COLAs. But I am going to stand up for my constituents who must live under the lack of police protection,” said Dunn. “In my opinion, we must balance the need to send a message to labor with the right policy decisions on public safety. This budget does not represent my principles.”

Three amendments were offered by Dunn:

* Taking $820,000 from the criminal justice reserve to restore six prosecutors, four to the violent crime unit and two to the economic crimes unit. The amendment was defeated by a 6-3 vote with Councilmembers Dunn, Hague and von Reichbauer voting in support of the amendment.
* Cutting $3.27 million from the Public Health budget to restore 26 deputies to the Sheriff’s office, including 16 for property crimes investigation, two for storefronts in unincorporated King County and eight School Resource Officers. The amendment failed on a 5-4 vote with Councilmembers Dunn, Hague, Lambert and von Reichbauer voting in favor of the amendment.
* Adding $100,000 of critical funding to the domestic violence and sexual assault programs. The amendment failed on a 7-2 vote with Councilmembers Dunn and von Reichbauer supporting the amendment.

“It was important to me to not just vote no. I wanted to once again offer some reasonable alternatives to save our criminal justice system,” said Dunn. “My alternatives were not supported by a majority of the Council but the perspective of the citizens of unincorporated King County and citizens who are concerned about public safety were heard.”

ADDED 6:34 PM: And the councilmember who has represented White Center almost all year, Jan Drago, has released her own statement on the budget as well:

Metropolitan King County Councilmember Jan Drago released this statement on today’s vote approving the 2011 King County Budget:

“This was an extremely difficult budget, and grappling with a $60 million budget gap was no easy task. It was by far the most difficult budget I’ve dealt with in the 17 years I’ve been involved in local government. There were very difficult choices and, in the end, no easy answers or quick fixes. Our final budget was not able to avoid layoffs or service cuts, so we are faced with no other option here in King County than to live within our means.

“While the adopted budget is $5.1 billion, almost 90 percent of that money is already committed. The General Fund, which is where elected leaders have some discretion to make spending decisions, is only $621million. Of that, 76percent of the General Fund money pays for the county’s criminal justice programs.

“Knowing that the decisions we faced would be difficult and painful, my colleagues and I committed early on to make the process as transparent and open as possible to the public to help them understand these difficult circumstances. We took testimony from more than 400 people at five public hearings, with countless more who wrote to us with their concerns and their pleas. While we weren’t able to avoid some painful cuts, we were able to restore some critical programs, including domestic violence and sexual assault support programs, Family Court services, support for alternatives to incarceration, the Step Up program, the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.

“So much of what is happening today with local government budgeting affects the people that have the least, and we did as much as we could to try and restore the programs that really help the people in need. Some of these decisions were based on the heartfelt testimony we heard at the public meetings, and I want to thank everyone who made the decision to get involved and participate in the process. It’s important that people know they can make a difference.

“I want to thank my County Council colleagues and King County Executive Dow Constantine for keeping the lines of communication open and for truly making this a collaborative process from start to finish. I was very impressed with the level of collaboration from all branches of King County government these last eight weeks and the commitment to openness and transparency. I also want to thank the thousands of county employees who made important sacrifices that allowed us to avoid some layoffs and restore some of these critical services to the public. Together, we were able to work through these daunting challenges, and King County will be a better place to live and work because of our commitment to public service and our willingness to collaborate.”


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