County passes budget; ‘public safety crisis has been averted’

After six weeks of intensive deliberation, the Metropolitan King County Council yesterday closed an unprecedented $93 million shortfall with unanimous adoption of a 2009 King County Budget that successfully protects the public’s highest priorities of public safety, health and quality of life.

After six weeks of intensive deliberation, the Metropolitan King County Council yesterday closed an unprecedented $93 million shortfall with unanimous adoption of a 2009 King County Budget that successfully protects the public’s highest priorities of public safety, health and quality of life.

However, members said action is still needed in the next session of the state Legislature to lift restrictions on the revenue sources provided to counties in order to avoid facing the same budget shortfalls next year.

“A public safety crisis has been averted as we substantially altered the Executive’s proposal and passed a 2009 budget that prioritizes the safety, health, and quality of life of King County citizens,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the 2009 Budget Review and Adoption Committee. “Now the hard work truly begins if we are to prevent catastrophic cuts in 2010 to criminal justice, public health, and human services. I pledge to join together with the elected leaders of King County, citizens, and affected stakeholders to make our case in Olympia for a long-term solution to King County’s revenue crisis.”

The council adopted a $4.9 billion budget with a general fund of $627.8 million that makes cuts to the Sheriff, Prosecuting Attorney and the courts, provides only six months of funding to many public health programs, and closes county government for 10 days next year with an unpaid employee furlough. The budget also provides only six months of funding or $3.5 million for programs mandated by the state but not accompanied with any revenues.

“We set strong priorities for public health, safety and quality of life, and we stuck to them while making the needed budget cuts,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, vice chair of the council’s Operating Budget Panel. “We were able to restore full funding for alternative sentencing programs that help criminal justice and human services work together to save money, reduce recidivism and change lives. We also restored important local government services to rural residents by keeping Sheriff’s office storefronts and units that fight drug and gang activities, and by maintaining agriculture and forestry units that support our valuable natural resources.”

To fund the restoration of the public’s priorities, the budget makes more than $10 million in one-time reductions to funds for future maintenance needs, some technology projects, and lower-priority programs. These restorations enabled the council to continue funding for one more year for such successful programs as Drug Diversion Court, Unified Family Court Services, Mental Health Court, Sheriff’s storefronts in unincorporated communities, public health centers, and more.


PUBLIC SAFETY: This budget restores full-year funding for successful programs for treatment and alternatives to incarceration for which the County Executive had proposed funding for only six months, including many parts of the council’s successful Adult Justice Operational Master Plan and Juvenile Justice Operational Master Plan that since 2001 have helped avoided more than $250 million in criminal justice costs with no increase in crime. In particular, this budget:

• Restores 19 positions to the Sheriff’s office that will:

• Keep open all Sheriff’s storefront offices in the unincorporated areas of the county.

• Save the Sheriff’s participation in regional drug, firearm, and gang task forces.

• Restore funding for major accident detectives who also support major crime scene investigations such as homicides, ChildFind detectives, K-9 services and other important specialized positions.

• Maintain security at the county’s court facilities.

• Restores full-year funding for the Superior Court’s successful Drug Diversion Court and Unified Family Court Services.

• Restores full-year funding for District Court’s award-winning Mental Health Court and preserves support for Relicensing Court.

• Restores full-year funding for street booking at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, so that local law enforcement in south King County can book inmates directly into the RJC without having to drive to downtown Seattle.

• Restores full-year funding for community corrections programs that are vital to holding down criminal justice costs while holding low-risk offenders accountable, including housing vouchers, chemical dependency treatment, and programs through the Central Area Motivation Program, the LELO program, the Learning Center, and Helping Hands.

• Provides needed resources for other programs, such as the unique domestic violence treatment program for juvenile offenders known as “Step-Up.”

PUBLIC HEALTH: In order to avert some of the most significant health threats to residents, this budget restores full-year funding for some public health programs placed in the Executive’s six-month strategy, including:

• Full–year funding for all public health centers.

• Services provided by community-based organizations that reduce youth violence.

• Programs for control of sexually transmitted disease.

• Services for 200 low-income seniors to help them manage chronic disease and avoid placement in expensive long-term care facilities and

services that ensure that children complete their immunization schedule.

Where the Executive proposed funding some of the county’s family planning clinics for six months and maintained the rest for the full year, this budget funds all family planning services for the first nine months of 2009 while the county seeks a revenue solution from the legislature. The council has also requested that the executive develop alternative options for the delivery of family planning services in 2009 and beyond.

This budget funds some public health services for six months of 2009, while the County works with the Legislature to develop revenues totaling $4.5 million to fund these programs for the remainder of 2009. If no support is found, these services will be reduced or entirely eliminated on July 1, 2009:

• The child care health program, providing 2,745 visits to child care facilities and 112 training sessions for child care providers that help to ensure the health and safety of children.

• Zoonotic disease control, which works with animal-related businesses in the county to reduce the transmission of disease from animals to humans and helps control infections from West Nile virus and rabies.

• Regulation of small drinking water systems.

• Tuberculosis control services that reduce the development of drug-resistant TB.

• Death investigations by the medical examiner.

• Public health laboratory testing services.

• Investigation of communicable diseases.

• Support provided by public health nurses to 75 teen mothers and their children, which is proven to reduce future criminal justice costs.

• Support for 1,200 families of children with special health and developmental needs.

• Provision of dental sealants to 900 second-grade children.

QUALITY OF LIFE: This budget affirms that the King County Fair, founded in 1863 to celebrate and promote the county’s agricultural heritage, is an essential part of the rural quality of life and the lives of young people for whom the annual event provides a cherished showcase. This budget restores funding for fair operations for 2009. The council will act on a motion that calls for a task force to explore ways to boost revenues and attendance in order to make the fair more self-sustaining in the future and less dependent upon support from the general fund.

• This budget assures full funding for 4-H programs in 2009.

• To ensure the long-term viability of natural resource-related activities such as farming and forestry, as well as continue proven salmon-recovery programs in county watersheds and Puget Sound, this budget restores staffing and funding in the Water and Land Resources Division for the agriculture, forestry, basin and rural stewardship and current use programs.

• This budget keeps bus service on the streets to meet record demand from riders, and keeps the promise for service increases made to voters who supported the “Transit Now” measure in 2006 – despite economic turmoil that has led to a dramatic plunge in the sales tax revenues that support Metro Transit. Accompanied by a mid-biennium supplemental budget for public transit, this budget also closes a shortfall of about $90 million in the transit budget by:

• Reducing Metro’s annual operating expenses by $28 million,

• Scaling back or deferring entirely $12.8 million in Metro capital projects,

• Reducing Metro’s annual capital fund by $40 million, as proposed by the executive, and

• Raising transit fares by 25 cents in many categories on Feb. 1, 2009, with a similar 25 cent increase to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010, generating $9.5 million in 2009 and a cumulative $22 million a year from 2010 onwards and restoring the target of bus fares defraying about 25 percent of transit operating expenses.

• The 2009 budget also includes $1.8 million in necessary capital improvements for the King County Aquatic Center, supported by dedicated funds approved by voters in last year’s Parks Levy.