Aug. 13, 2009
King County Executive Kurt Triplett announces preliminary cuts to budget
Economic crisis accelerates need to cut deeper, sooner King County Executive Kurt Triplett today announced plans to cut $16.6 million in overhead, administrative and general government services in his 2010 budget proposal, including cuts to the offices of the Executive, budget and strategic planning. Triplett said his budget will give priority to direct services to residents as the global economic crisis continues to cause a steep drop in sale tax revenues and a $50 million shortfall in money needed to fund current levels of county services.
Triplett emphasized that as he works during coming weeks to find additional service cuts, his priorities will be preserving public health and regional criminal justice services such as the Prosecutor, the jail, the Superior and District Courts and public defense. Local services such as parks and permitting will likely see deep cuts. In order to ensure public safety, the Sheriff's office will continue to be the only local service funding priority.
Given the limited regional funding tools available, the proposed cuts announced today eliminate virtually all remaining discretionary services. They also prioritize direct services to the residents of King County and mandatory responsibilities over general government functions and internal service needs, except for those necessary for the running of the government or to comply with legal requirements and mandates.
Although every county department will see cuts in 2010, Triplett said he would do his best to shield public health services and regional criminal justice services from the same magnitude of cuts in other services. Specifically, the Prosecutor, jail, the Superior and District Courts and public defense will take a smaller percentage of cuts and the only exception to the proposed cuts in local services will be priority funding of the Sheriff's office to ensure of safety of residents."
These are cuts that will have real impacts on services King County provides, especially since budgets for these agencies have already been cut in the two previous budgets," said Triplett. "The only real solution to maintaining current services is a change in state law and the way counties are financed."
A cap on property taxes that is less than the rate of inflation and state limits on revenue sources and how county tax dollars are spent means an estimated $60 million will have to be cut in 2011 on top of the $50 million in 2010. Counties do not have the same taxing authority as cities and a 2007 report commissioned by the state says Washington laws have created a structural deficit for all counties in Washington that can only be solved with changes in state law.
"I want the Executive Office and internal services to take the first cut, but we are at the point of jeopardizing the ability of the government to function if we cut deeper than 10 percent into administrative services such as the budget office, information technology, finance and human resources," Triplett said. "We are already becoming limited in our ability to respond to directives in audits, to provide performance management and planning for emergencies as we eliminate jobs in general government."
The Executive office itself, which includes the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management, will take a 10 percent cut, saving King County $1.3 million dollars.
Executive Triplett also challenged the King County Council to make a similar 10 percent reduction to the combined offices of the Council and legislative agencies so that the executive and legislative branches of government share the impacts of the budget crisis and further minimize - as much as possible - cuts to direct services to residents.
"These proposed cuts will be difficult, but by making tough choices they can be achieved," said Triplett. "We must all be willing to lead by example as deep reductions are taken countywide."
The cuts include eliminating all training dollars for King County employees, which potentially increases the county's liability in certain situations because it may not be able to ensure staff are up to speed on the latest legal requirements or training in their field.
The cuts to the finance and budget offices mean it will be more difficult for the county respond to issues like audit findings - even as it struggles to provide sufficient oversight and monitoring of critical projects with current staffing levels.
It also affects King County's ability to deliver on its commitment to transparency and responsiveness to residents, regional partners, and counterparts in other governments.
For example, the cuts will reduce the Office of Strategic Planning and Performance Management - an office specifically created by the Council last year by consolidating elements of the Budget Office and the county's Business Relations office. The staff in that office are responsible for managing issues like the county's performance management and measurement, county governance related to annexation and incorporation, regional growth management planning and evaluation, and urban and rural affairs - areas which are vital to being responsive to residents and the region and vital to the success of King County government. The creation and consolidation of the office eliminated four positions and the cuts announced today are on top of those reductions.
Triplett said the cuts mean fewer staff countywide to provide the greater level of detail needed to run budgets, technology, human resources, accounting and other services for a complex government enterprise like King County, which serves a population larger than 14 states and has a budget equal to or larger than seven states.
The proposed cuts announced today won't be final until the budget is submitted to the King County Council on September 27.