Criminal justice and bus service preserved; does not use $15.6 million rainy-day reserve fund
StoryThe Metropolitan King County Council gave its unanimous approval today to a $5.001 billion 2010 King County Budget that makes targeted efficiencies in order to preserve nearly all current funding for public safety and criminal justice and avert threatened cuts to Metro bus service.
The overall budget contains no net new taxes and is $12 million lower than the $5.013 billion proposed by the County Executive. It cuts 311 full-time equivalent employee positions (FTE’s), 60 more than that proposed by the Executive.
“The Council has crafted a budget that protects public safety, keeps parks open in the unincorporated areas, and restores funding for key domestic violence and legal aid programs,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine. “There have been many hard choices this year, but basic services have been protected, including Metro Transit.”
“Given the deep economic crisis and the $56 million deficit facing King County, the Council had to make some very difficult decisions in this 2010 budget. The result was a very basic budget that allows the County to continue providing mandated services and the programs that assist the most vulnerable,” said Council Budget Chair Larry Gossett. “However, if we do not immediately start addressing the structural gap in our budget between revenues and expenses, there is no doubt that we will not be able to sustain these services in the future.”
“This is a budget taxpayers can be proud of,” said Budget Vice Chair Jane Hague. “We found efficiencies across the board that will keep costs down and maintain many of the services people rely on most.”
“Our top priority continues to be preserving core services to protect public safety,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, a member of the Budget Leadership Team. “I am proud that with this budget, we have been able to ‘protect the protectors’ by funding the Sheriff and the courts at levels that cut no more than one percent from this year’s funding. We continue our commitment to offer alternatives to incarceration, such as our nationally recognized drug court as well as the mental health court, which will be expanded countywide. This budget shows compassion while reducing the cycle of crime and thereby saves lives and money in the criminal justice system.”
“Public safety, basic services, and the safety net for women and children are all defining themes in this 2010 budget,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, another member of the Budget Leadership Team. “Although I’m proud of the one-year restoration of critical services, we must address the structural gap in our general fund or face untenable cuts next year.”
“The economic crisis took a toll on King County’s budget this year, but we rose to the challenge by prioritizing and finding efficiencies to protect core services like buses,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “More work lies ahead in ensuring we have a long term solution to keeping police and buses on the streets and a human services safety net in place for those in need.”
“Our balanced budget protects core services, such as public safety and transit, without raising taxes or draining reserves,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “Additional shortfalls are already expected for the 2011 budget, however, so we must continue to seek creative ways to provide critical services while maintaining our AAA bond rating.”
“I am very pleased with the priorities set by this budget. Public safety must be our top concern and this budget makes that the number one priority,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “However, we face an even tougher challenge in maintaining basic services next year. If the county cannot get a handle on the cost drivers of the general fund then we will be back here year after year.”
Highlights of the 2010 Budget
Public Safety: Savings identified by the Council allowed budget writers to limit any reduction to the criminal justice system to no more than one percent from 2009 levels. By making use of new legislative authority to redistribute sales tax revenues dedicated for mental illness and drug dependency programs, this budget provides funding support for:
• Sheriff deputy patrols and law enforcement activities necessary to maintain public safety in the unincorporated areas and the region as a whole,
• Mental Health Court and the Relicensing Program administered by King County District Court,
• Probation services that protect the public while reducing the costs of incarceration,
• Targeted enforcement programs by the Prosecuting Attorney that have led to significant reductions in auto theft, burglary, and gun violence,
• Alternatives to incarceration that help keep people out of the criminal justice system,
• Adult and juvenile Drug Courts, Unified Family Court, and
• Funding for the King County Law Library within the Maleng Regional Justice Center, a vital service for the accused who choose to defend themselves, and for their families.
The budget also requires $1.5 million in security improvements to King County’s Youth and Family Services Court Facilities at 12th and Alder.
Human Services: By reprioritizing a portion of the $3 million set aside in the Executive Proposed Budget to transition the County out of animal sheltering services, the Council is able to restore nearly $1.4 million in dedicated and general funds for programs for the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, and for legal aid programs that help survivors obtain restraining orders and navigate the judicial system.
Transit: In all, Councilmembers have preserved the 310,000 hours of bus service that had been threatened to be cut under the Executive Proposed Budget, and Metro service will remain at current levels over the next two years – despite the recessionary drop in the sales tax revenues that support Metro.
Of that number, 110,000 hours of bus service were saved under recent tax-neutral actions to cut the King County Ferry District property tax assessment, approve a property tax levy for transit, and adopt a Metro proposal for a small fare increase in 2011.
This budget preserves the other 200,000 hours of annual bus service by implementing cost-saving efficiencies first identified in September by the Council-directed Transit Performance Audit. Among those efficiencies to be implemented by Metro under this budget are:
• More efficient scheduling of buses and operators, in part by reducing the amount of time buses lay over at the end of each trip,
• Scheduling bus routes based on the system as a whole, rather than the current practice of scheduling routes within one of Metro’s seven regional transit bases, which will help reduce the “deadheading” that occurs when buses return empty to their home bus base at the end of each operator’s shift,
• Increased training and use of Metro’s scheduling software to identify more opportunities where one bus and operator can more efficiently handle routes.
• Use of $40 million over the next two years from Metro’s Fleet Replacement Fund, which the Council audit revealed holds excess reserves of $105 million,
• Deferral of proposed capital projects, and adjustment of the cleaning schedules for buses and the maintenance schedules for transit shelters and Park and Rides,
• Cutting 43 positions that are not related to bus service, 39 of which are unfilled, and
• Authorization for Metro to sell advertising “bus wraps” that include a 15-inch wide strip along the windows, so that riders can retain an unobstructed view out of the bus.
Public Health: This budget decreases general fund support for Public Health by $4.5 million to $26.5 million. In order to alleviate reductions in service delivery, in 2010 the County will enter into innovative partnerships with community providers at the Northshore and Kent Public Health Centers.
King County Parks: The Executive Proposed Budget included the closure of 39 parks within the County’s Urban Growth Area in 2010. The Council’s budget authorizes the funding to keep these parks open next year, but the revenues to back that authority are still being developed.
General Government: The budget reduces the County Council’s own budget by 13 percent and cuts seven positions, four of which were filled at the start of this year. The budget for the Executive’s office has also been reduced by 10 percent.
Efficiencies: The Council through its review of technology projects identified more than $1.4 million in savings, much of it through the prohibition of the purchase of non-essential desktop computer equipment and a delay in the replacement of desktop computers. This budget also calls on County departments to examine where they can streamline services, requiring:
• The Transportation Department to report if complementary services in various divisions can be consolidated;
• Facilities management to report on its staff-to-project ratio in order to evaluate whether staffing levels are appropriate;
• Solid waste to report on its use of overtime, and;
• Wastewater treatment to report on shift changes that could result in more productive use of employees.
Read the adopted 2010 County Budget