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King County provides critical services to millions of people, with a projected two-year budget of ~$10 billion, 14,000 employees and nearly 60 lines of business.  Most of the County’s programs are financially healthy and will continue to meet the needs of a growing community. Our strong regional economy has boosted revenue for some of our funds, including Metro Transit, and the County continues to make strategic investments in important programs and services that reflect the values of King County residents. However, structural revenue limitations imposed by the State mean that other funds are under severe financial stress.

 

In September 2016, King County Executive Dow Constantine will present the 2017/2018 budget proposal to the King County Council. The Council will review the budget in the fall, holding hearings and public meetings. The final budget will be adopted by the Council in mid-November and will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

The Executive’s budget development will include special focus on four strategic initiatives: 

  • Best-Run Government: King County's goal is to be the best-run government in the nation, delivering better services, improving operations and increasing efficiency. We are committed to embracing continuous improvement, instituting best management practices, empowering employees to innovate, and striving for second-to-none customer service.
  • Equity and Social Justice: Inequities hurt everyone, and for our region to prosper, we need everyone to have a fair shot at success, regardless of where they start out in life. Through our Equity and Social Justice initiative, we are investing in upstream strategies, where the needs are greatest, to ensure that our decisions, policies and practices produce gains for all residents.
  • Confronting Climate Change: Climate change threatens the health and safety of our residents, economy and environment. Puget Sound is rising, rivers and streams are getting warmer, Cascade snow packs are getting smaller, and wildfire risks are increasing. King County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan, a five-year blueprint for County action to confront climate change, integrates climate change into all areas of County operations, as well as our work in the community.
  • Regional Mobility: Demand for transit is at an all-time high, and King County Metro Transit is experiencing growing sales tax and fare box revenue, while benefiting from low fuel prices. New financial policies are being developed that will establish and fund a “rainy day reserve” to help preserve service in a future recession. Service expansions will be considered but have to be balanced with capital needs for new or expanded bases, layover facilities and potential new park and rides.

Despite our strong regional economy, several critical services, including public health and safety, are not financially sustainable as a result of funding limitations imposed by the State. State law puts an arbitrary 1 percent cap on the revenue increases counties can receive from property taxes. Even as the Executive has delivered on his promise to reduce cost growth during his administration, these limitations mean that revenue can’t keep up with inflation and the increase in demand for services as the population grows.

 

After years of increasing efficiency, decreasing our cost growth, and drawing on reserves, we’ve reached the point at which there are no good options left to balance the budget.  

 

The General Fund faces a gap of about $50 million. About three-quarters of the General Fund is spent on public safety, so major program changes and service reductions are likely.

 

Net 2017/2018 General Fund Expenditures


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Note: 2017/2018 true General Fund-supported programs without contracts or interfund.

 

 

In addition, the Public Health Fund has accumulated a deficit, mostly due to flat or declining federal and state funding. The Best Starts for Kids levy will preserve and expand some programs, but considerable financial pressure will remain for other Public Health functions. Much of Public Health’s flexible funding comes from the General Fund, so the General Fund’s challenges may also affect Public Health.

 

Federal, State and Local funding support for Public Health, 2008-2016


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Watch: Dwight Dively, Director of Performance, Strategy and Budget, explains how King County’s revenue falls behind even as property taxes go up.