Meeting human service needs, protecting the public, addressing county roads
The Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously adopted a 2012 King County Budget that continues the Council’s proactive approach to reforming county government while protecting vulnerable populations and increasing the focus on county roads.
The $5.2 billion budget includes a $650 million General Fund budget, of which 76 percent is directed toward public safety and criminal justice programs. Even in the midst of the Great Recession, the adopted budget continues to protect the County’s AAA bond rating by not using the County’s cash reserves or tapping the rainy day fund.
“For the second year in a row, we have been able to produce a county budget ahead of our projected schedule,” said Budget Chair Julia Patterson. “This budget responds to the most basic human needs of those struggling from the recession, as nearly 190,000 King County residents are now living below the federal poverty line. It is also a budget that builds upon efficiencies and creates transparency within county government, while continuing reforms that help the County work smarter, use fewer resources and increase the value of its services.”
“As the Councilmember with the largest unincorporated area, this budget calls for a redirection of the County’s Road Service Division toward maintenance of the county road system and reducing administration,” said Budget Committee Vice Chair Kathy Lambert. “Reducing management positions will increase workers in the field, a realignment that puts additional personnel on the road to help with snow removal and storm response.”
The 2012 Budget focuses on the Budget Leadership Team’s theme of “Tackling Reality, Continuing Reform,” by directing funds to efficiently provide needed County services within the available funds as well as aiding those populations feeling the brunt of the economic downturn.
The Council reorganized the Executive’s budget proposal in addressing basic human needs. Instead of having human service funds allocated through a County Request for Proposal (RFP) process, the Council has allocated $1 million in one-time funds to be split equally between three regional organizations that work directly with essential programs assisting those in need:
• FOOD: Food Lifeline will work with and allocate funds to those programs that deal with hunger in King County,
• SHELTER: Funding for homeless programs will be distributed by the YWCA,
• SAFETY: Agencies that assist the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault will work with the King County Coalition against Domestic Violence.
“Just like so many have done at home, the County has balanced its checkbook, but we have also prioritized and supported access to food, safety and shelter to help the thousands of King County residents who are struggling during this Great Recession,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, a member of the 2012 Budget Leadership Team.
The Council also recognizes the County Executive’s method of finding efficiencies in this budget with its support of the Executive’s proposed LEAN positions. LEAN is an approach that increases value to customers while using fewer resources—such as an employee in Public Health working to improve the patient care environment by centralizing intake to free up front-desk staff. This budget would fund training programs that would assist in educating County employees about LEAN and how it can apply to their departments.
“We continue reforming how the county does business by reducing health care costs, providing predictable rates for building permits, utilizing the LEAN program and creating online filing for tax appeals. Innovative reforms such as these help maintain our AAA bond rating that puts more taxpayer money back into services,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague, a member of the Budget Leadership Team. “This budget exemplifies how good fiscal policy and collaboration can carry a local government through a challenging economy.”
Reforming government continues to play an important role in the 2012 Budget, with steps toward increasing efficiency, cost certainty and better customer service:
• Technology investments such as a document management system that will allow the public access to three million documents via the internet. This budget also funds a high-priority, customer service improvement project that will allow King County property taxpayers to file a tax appeal electronically without having to visit a county office,
• Streamlining building and permitting services for the public. Using flat-rate fees allows for most development permits to result in financial predictability for applicants.
Public defense is a vital component of the County’s criminal justice system. The 2012 Budget increases the public defense budget to reduce the overall felony caseload maintained by the attorneys defending indigent participants in the criminal justice system.
After losing positions in both the King County Sheriff’s Office and Superior and District Court last year, the adopted budget preserves programs and staffing levels in the courts without raising fees. It also restores a critical investigative child find detective, who will advocate for child safety in highly volatile custody cases.
“This stable and balanced budget is a product of a decade-long effort to respond to shrinking revenues by cutting costs while maintaining our high bond ratings through sound fiscal management,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “We were able to preserve transit service for the next two years, even in this down economy, due to our three-year-effort to stabilize Metro’s budget and make our system more efficient and productive.”
“This budget is stable but builds on cuts from prior years to our criminal justice system. I am pleased that we have been able to restore storefront deputies and provide funding to fight gangs over the past year,” said King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “I am also particularly proud of the Council's work in re-prioritizing the Roads budget to focus on services rather than administration.”
“This is a balanced, prudent budget that delivers on the County’s responsibility to protect public safety, improve access to justice, and ensure a functioning criminal justice system,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, Chair of the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee.
“This budget reflects the challenging economic climate facing all of King County’s citizens,” said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “In the end, we have created a fair and humane budget while confronting the tough decision for our future.”
For the second year in a row, the Council has adopted the budget earlier than anticipated. Traditionally, the Council adopts the King County Budget the Monday before Thanksgiving. Today’s vote is almost two week ahead of the schedule set by the Budget Chair. All the members of the Budget Leadership Team acknowledge that the early adoption is the result of the continuing collaborative effort between the budget team and the Executive budget staff throughout the negotiations.
Budget Chair Patterson warned her colleagues that even with the early adoption of the 2012 County Budget, there are issues on the horizon. The Washington State Legislature will hold a special session starting on November 28 to cut an additional $2 billion from the state budget, and those cuts could have a devastating effect on the County and its newly adopted budget.
“The results of the upcoming special session held by the state legislature will have a direct impact on King County in 2012,” said Patterson. “While we should be proud of the hard work we have achieved in balancing our own County budget this year, we must prepare for the reality of looming state budget cuts that could mean a dramatic blow to the county's most basic services moving forward.”
“King County continues to be indebted to our employees for finding and implementing efficiencies that save us money and providing excellent services even with a reduced workforce,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “However, as this economic crisis continues, King County will not be sustainable if we do not find new revenues, especially in light of the impending federal and state cuts that impact King County's budget directly.”