Sept. 28, 2009
Triplett 2010 budget prioritizes public health and safety while cutting jobs and administration costs
King County Executive Kurt Triplett today transmitted a $621 million 2010 General Fund budget that shields criminal justice and public health services from major cuts and slashes administrative costs to address a projected $56.4 million shortfall. The General Fund is $26 million less than 2009 - the second year in a row that the General Fund has decreased from the previous year. Across all county funds, the budget eliminates 367 jobs.
The Executive’s budget aims to preserve all direct core services, however, all major programs (including non-general fund services) will see decreased funding in 2010. Criminal justice services will be least affected. The 2010 proposed budget for criminal justice totals 1 percent less than the 2009 budget. Health and human services will see a combined cut of 37 percent from 2009 as the Executive zeroed out all General Fund support to human services, but replaced support for many services with other funds or innovations.
“There is no right or painless way to make cuts of the magnitude we have these last two years,” said Triplett. “My budget places the highest budget priority on criminal justice and Public Health to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents.”
A major drop in tax revenues caused by the recession and state limits on the ability of all counties in the state to raise revenues, have created a structural crisis that is reducing King County’s ability to provide services other than those mandated by the state. As a result, this year’s reductions are on top of $93 million in cuts in 2009 and $137 million in cuts between 2002 and 2005. The reductions echo recession-related city and county budget deficits nationwide and projections show no end in sight for King County, with an estimated $54.2 million deficit in 2011 and $88.2 million in 2012.
While Triplett eliminated all General Fund contributions to human services for a savings of $11.4 million, he was able to spend $4.9 million to save most of the mental health and substance abuse programs by using the county’s new authority to use part of the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Tax (MIDD) on existing programs. Another $2.8 million in human services cuts are offset by re-allocating non-General Fund revenues to human services.
Another $7.7 million of MIDD funds will shield criminal justice services that would have been in jeopardy such as drug court, jail health and mental health court. Earlier this year the legislature authorized a temporary change in the law that had limited the MIDD tax exclusively to new programs.
The budget proposal maintains the county’s six percent emergency reserve fund at $30.9 million, the Rainy Day Fund at over $15 million, and follows conservative fiscal policies that have helped the county to earn and maintain AAA bond ratings from all the major rating agencies for the last four years. Triplett emphasized the need and prudence of leaving reserves untouched given the expected resurgence of the current pandemic flu outbreak and the uncertainties of potential major flooding in the Green River Valley.
“King County faces an uncertain future as the recession continues, the pandemic flu continues its spread, we prepare for possible major flooding in the Green River and we have no dedicated funds for important services such as public health,” said Triplett. “I urge the council to be prudent, use financial discipline and remember even more painful cuts will be needed in 2011 and 2012 to balance the budget.”
Triplett urged the council and the next Executive to hold a summit of elected leaders to continue the collaborative effort begun last session to seek the financial tools from the legislature needed to prevent the dismantling of criminal justices and public health services for counties statewide.
“The needs of urban counties were never imagined when this state was founded,’’ Triplett said. “Today’s counties need new tools to provide the modern services people expect.”
Triplett’s budget provides $26.5 million for Public Health, a cut of $3.5 million from 2009, and uses a new partnership, staff reassignments and other innovations to mitigate most of the cuts. A new partnership with a private provider will keep the Northshore Public Health clinic open and for the first time offer primary care. The department’s Alder Square and Kent Teen Clinics are in the Green River Valley potential flood area and will close as part of the county’s preparation to continue services if a flood occurs. Staff will be reassigned and some services will be consolidated at the Birch Creek Clinic in Kent. The department will open another site in the south county to provide some of the services that were at the two clinics. Loss of federal and state grants will account for about half of 106 positions that will be cut and most are vacancies.
Triplett proposes to spare the prosecutor, superior and district courts, public defense and the jail from deep cuts.
Voter approval of Burien’s annexation of the southern portion of North Highline means that responsibility for providing local services to more than 14,000 people will shift from the county to the City of Burien. The total savings to the General Fund will be $4.8 million, assuming a March 2, 2010 effective date. This savings will be offset by a reduction in revenue collected by the county in this area, resulting in a net savings of $2.9 million in 2010. Reductions will be made throughout county agencies as the workload associated with the area goes away. As the largest General Fund provider of local services in the area, the Sheriff’s Office will see the biggest reduction ($3.5 million), but like other agencies will also see a workload reduction.
Triplett cuts the combined offices of the Executive, budget, strategic planning and information services by 12 percent and 16 jobs for a $2.6 million savings. His budget assumes the council will do the same with their staff. Triplett cut deeply into internal services and overhead such as human resources, finance, facilities, payroll and general government for a $19 million dollars savings countywide.
The Executive’s directive in January 2009 to departments to hold vacancies open is helping to reduce the impact of the 367 jobs that are eliminated in Triplett’s 2010 proposal. Layoff notices were given to 145 employees today. The remaining 191 positions are vacant.
The budget assumes a $6.5 million savings in labor costs or operational shut downs countywide through such measures as employee furloughs although a final agreement with the county’s unions has not been reached. The county would save approximately $8 million in 2009 from employees taking 10 days of unpaid furlough.
The budget will see the first year of $37 million in reduced cost growth over three years from the newly negotiated employee benefits agreement that increases employees’ contribution to health insurance. The benefits package retains the nationally acclaimed Health Initiative that is controlling overall health care costs while increasing employee cost share. Total costs shifted or avoided are equivalent to a $70 per employee premium share.
While the economy has impacted all services that are not dependent on the General Fund, Triplett points out the county is able to make more than $800 million in infrastructure investments in Transit, Roads, Solid Waste, Wastewater Treatment, Parks and county facilities needed for the economic and environmental health of residents and the region.
Highlights of the $800 million Capital Budget include: $257 million for roads and bridges; $124 million for new Metro Transit buses to implement RapidRide service; $37 million at the King County International Airport including $16 million for runway resurfacing; $96 million for wastewater treatment projects; $46 million for Solids Waste transfer station construction; $31 million on technology projects that increase public access, customer service and government transparency; and $10 million for courts and jail maintenance. The Capital Budget keeps faith with voters who approved a countywide parks levy by spending $30 million on open space acquisition, trails development and park maintenance.
Triplett’s August announcement that he would eliminate funding for 39 local parks that are in unincorporated areas slated for annexation has produced a number of proposals from residents and organizations to keep the parks open. The proposal saves $4.6 million from the General Fund. The 2010 budget includes just over $200,000 to ensure public safety but otherwise ‘mothballs’ parks by closing restrooms and eliminating maintenance. A majority of the Parks budget is generated by the countywide levy for regional facilities, trails and open space. Another $4.3 million is generated by entrepreneurial partnerships. In an effort to promote the transfer of these parks to cities and other community organizations, the proposed budget allocates $500,000 in one-time transition funds.
Triplett provided $3 million to transition the county out of Animal Care and Control, which is a service that is partially paid for by city pet license fees but subsidized by approximately $1.5 million annually from the county’s general fund.
The King County Council will review the budget proposal and traditionally adopts a final budget the Monday before Thanksgiving, which must be signed by the Executive.