Councilmembers seek efficiencies in public safety spending
With King County’s general fund facing a $140 million deficit over the next two years and public safety services in jeopardy, the Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously approved a financial and performance audit of the Sheriff’s Office called for by Councilmember Larry Phillips. The audit will be conducted by the King County Auditor’s Office with scoping and preliminary work to be completed in 2010, and the full audit due in 2011.
“The Great Recession has reduced funding for criminal justice programs at a time when families can least afford to pay more taxes to make up the difference, so we must seek every efficiency possible in the Sherrif’s Office to reduce costs and maintain vital public safety services,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “Through an audit of Metro, we were able to find enough savings to offset transit cuts for two years. We don’t anticipate similar monetary results through this audit, but every efficiency counts.”
The audit will review regional and local law enforcement services in comparison to the state mandated levels of regional and local law enforcement services and any applicable benchmarks.
“Auditing the Sherriff’s Office is a proactive step towards creating a more efficient King County government,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “A similar performance audit of Metro last year allowed us to prevent cuts in service. Hopefully we can do the same thing here, so we can maximize the amount of service for each taxpayer dollar. In this economic climate our constituents expect us to keep all options on the table when it comes to saving money.”
“Our top funding priority has been to preserve our public safety system, but we need to make sure we are doing it in the most efficient way possible,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which directs the work of the Auditor’s Office. “Sheriff Rahr has done an admirable job of keeping our citizens safe, but now with declining resources, that task becomes even more challenging. Our criminal justice system – including the sheriff, courts and jails – now is 76 percent of the general fund. Our Auditor has the expertise to advise us about how to stretch every dollar to its capacity, so this is a good time to apply that capability to the Sheriff’s Office.”
The Executive previously proposed sending to voters the option to offset criminal justice cuts by raising $47 million in 2011 through a two-tenths of one percent local option sales tax. This proposal did not garner the six Council votes needed to make the August ballot, but Councilmembers have not ruled out sending a criminal justice revenue proposal to voters in November after more work has been done to lower county costs.
Criminal justice officials have warned that the roughly 10- to 15-percent reductions that will be needed to close the $60 million general fund gap for 2011 could lead to the elimination of about 80 Sheriff’s Office positions—in addition to the 96 positions cut in the last three years—and would reduce basic law enforcement services.