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Dow Constantine


Current levels of public safety and health would be preserved under measure proposed to King County Council for August primary

Summary

Voters would have the choice of keeping current levels of critical public safety and health services under a proposed August ballot measure sent today to the King County Council by Executive Dow Constantine.

Story

Voters would have the choice of keeping current levels of critical public safety and health services under a proposed August ballot measure sent today to the King County Council by Executive Dow Constantine.

"I have pledged to bring down the cost of government over time and give voters the choice of where to set the starting point for criminal justice and related services for next year," said Executive Constantine. "If voters approve, the County will be able to preserve the current level of critical public safety and health services. If voters do not approve, they will have chosen a lower level of these services."

"We must address both our current budget crisis, through a proposal for maintaining criminal justice services, and our long-term structural gap, by decreasing labor costs and implementing operational efficiencies," said Councilmember Julia Patterson, chair of the Council's Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. "We cannot cut our Sheriff, our courts, and our prosecutors by up to 12 percent next year without giving the voters an opportunity weigh in on saving systems and services we have in place to keep people safe."

"After cutting more than $140 million to the general fund over the last two years, the County is facing continued budget challenges," said Council Chair Bob Ferguson. "This proposal will provide voters the opportunity to determine the level of public safety services they want in King County. The intent is to submit this to the voters for the August ballot in advance of the Council's budget deliberations."

Under one of the few remaining potential revenue sources authorized for counties under state law, the proposed ordinance would put a two-tenths of one percent local option sales tax for criminal justice and related services before voters. Forty percent of the revenues would be distributed to local cities, with King County's share of the revenue at about $47 million in 2011. Voters in five other counties have approved this tax at rates ranging from one-tenth to three-tenths of one percent.

"In difficult economic times, it is only right to get the citizens' input on the level of services they want and are able to pay for," said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Vice Chair of the Council Budget Committee. "The county already has cut $150 million over the past few years to stay 'within our means.' Retaining current levels of public safety service will require additional revenue to keep up with inflation. Local governments are capped at about a 1-percent property tax increase each year, so we want to hear from the citizens whether they prefer to increase revenue or if they prefer additional cuts."

"This is a critical opportunity for citizens to decide on priorities and give them choices about funding our most important services," said Councilmember Jan Drago.

"In this time of economic crisis, it is difficult to ask the voters to step up to the plate," said Councilmember Larry Gossett. "However, if we do not have another source of revenue, the services that we must cut will be devastating, especially to the poor and disadvantaged. And in the long run, if we are not able to get the public to support a revenue increase, it will only result in increases in the cost of running our criminal justice system beyond what it costs us now."

Counties across the state face a built-in gap between property tax revenues limited to growth of 1 percent per year plus the revenue from new construction, and background inflation of around 3 percent.

Criminal justice officials warned the Council's budget committee on April 14 that the roughly 10- to 15-percent reductions that will be needed to close a roughly $60 million general fund gap for 2011 could lead to the elimination of District Court probation services, reduced capacity for criminal investigations, and the elimination of sheriff's deputies.

"I want the opportunity through this process to have a conversation with the residents of unincorporated King County about preserving their basic public safety," said Sheriff Sue Rahr. "We have cut 96 positions in the past three years. We have reorganized, reprioritized and eliminated services and operations to meet budget reductions. We continue to aggressively look for and implement cost-saving measures. However, a proposed 12 percent cut for 2011 in unincorporated King County would force the elimination of about 80 more positions and severely cripple basic law enforcement services--from burglary and all property crime investigations to the neighborhood deputies who respond to those crimes."

Prosecutor Satterberg noted, "This is the only tool the Legislature gave to help counties avoid disastrous cuts. It gives voters the choice to preserve essential public safety and criminal justice programs and will increase safety in every city and every neighborhood throughout the County."

"If passed by the voters of King County, the Superior Court will use the new sales tax revenues to keep family court services, preserve the nationally recognized Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA) for child abuse cases, and to maintain an adequate level of probation supervision for juvenile cases," said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer. "In the King County Clerk's office, the new funds will preserve staff to answer questions on the telephone and to fund domestic violence protection services. Absent these new sales tax revenues, additional budget cuts would severely reduce our Court's ability to fairly and efficiently administer justice in King County."

"Evidence shows that supervision of offenders is a key component in effective sentencing practices," said King County District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde. "The extreme and drastic cuts facing the County would mean that repeat drunk drivers and domestic violence offenders would go without supervision. The likely result would be increased recidivism that threatens public safety in the communities and further burdens the jails and courts."

Among the most significant public safety and health services that would be preserved:

  • Retain as many as 82 positions in the King County Sheriff's Office that are dedicated to protecting our community. By preserving these positions, the Sheriff's Office will be able to continue to investigate property crimes; provide School Resource Officers to 11 schools; provide storefront deputies who are key points of contact with neighborhoods; participate in regional crime, drug, and homeland security task forces; maintain current levels of investigation for homicides and other major crimes including sexual assaults and domestic violence; and provide specialized services such as the Bomb Squad, Marine Patrol, fire investigation, and animal cruelty investigation.
  • Preserve the equivalent of 36 deputy prosecuting attorneys (DPAs) in the Prosecutor's Office, which represents two-thirds of Civil Division DPAs, or all criminal DPAs assigned to Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC), or all DPAs assigned to Special Assault Unit and Domestic Violence Units.
  • Retain Superior Court programs designed to reduce recidivism, assist court litigants, help crime victims, and ensure a smoothly functioning justice system. For example, over 75 percent of family law litigants do not have lawyers to help them through their divorce, child support or custody cases, and the Family Court facilitators who would continue to be available if this proposal is approved help people navigate these legal processes.
  • Preserve District Court programs, such as Probation Services, that help to reduce the number of people involved in court matters and ensure that those who are sentenced receive appropriate supervision.
  • Preserve significant programs in alternatives to detention for both juveniles and adults. These programs assist people in obtaining life skills to reduce recidivism, provide community work crews, assist offenders in meeting their community service hours, and reduce other costs in the criminal justice system.
  • Retain the ability of police agencies to book and transfer inmates at the MRJC. Closing the MRJC for intake and transfer would require south county police agencies to drive to Seattle to book inmates, which would reduce the time officers spend patrolling the streets of their communities.
  • Preserve seven day a week animal control services by maintaining a second animal control officer in each control district.

  • Retain key services Public Health provides to the public. The funding would preserve the current level of therapy to ensure tuberculosis patients take their medicine as scheduled, and will enable the Medical Examiner's Office to continue to make determinations of the cause and manner of death and conduct autopsies in a timely fashion so as not to unduly delay releasing remains to next of kin.
  • Preserve funding for the Children and Family Commission, which provides grants to non-profit organizations that work to ensure safe communities and healthy families.
  • Maintain critical support to the County's public health centers and the services they provide to the public, especially to mothers and children.
  • Continue General Fund support to human services such as Domestic Violence Survivor Services, Sexual Assault Victim Services, Senior Centers in unincorporated areas, and programs for youth (including homeless youth) involved in the criminal justice system.

As political subdivisions of the state, counties rely on the Legislature for revenue authority, and the local option sales tax for criminal justice is one of the few remaining revenue sources authorized. The total cost per household is projected to be about $40 in 2011.

Patterson said she has scheduled a first public hearing on the ballot measure in her Budget and Fiscal Management Committee for tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. The deadline to place measures on the August ballot is May 25.


King County provides regional services to 1.9 million residents including more than 340,000 people living in unincorporated areas. Services include Metro transit, public health, wastewater treatment, courts, jails, prosecutors, public defenders, community and social services, the King County International Airport, and local services such as police protection, roads services and garbage collection. King County is the 14th largest county in the nation, covering 2,134 square miles, 39 cities, 760 lakes and reservoirs, and six major river systems with 3,000 miles of streams.



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King County Executive
Dow Constantine
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