Sept. 26, 2010
Executive proposes 3 percent annual efficiencies to sustain King County budget over the long term
But to get there his budget proposal for 2011 must reduce 252 positions in criminal justice system even after priorities are established and efficiencies created
King County Executive Dow Constantine today called for a reset of King County finances that recognizes changed circumstances and new economic realities, through establishment of a base of significant reductions in service and a program of continuous improvement that creates 3 percent in efficiencies every year.
“The people of King County need a government that is restored to sound financial footing, not one lurching from crisis to crisis,” said Executive Constantine in an address to the Metropolitan King County Council. “This is a budget that calls not merely for muddling through another year of cuts, but for efficiencies that can be sustained over time so we can stabilize county finances and provide the services the people of King County need.”
The Executive’s budget cannot assume that voters will approve new revenues in November. In order to close a $60 million shortfall in the General Fund, the Executive’s 2011 proposed budget makes significant cuts to criminal justice services, which account for more than 75 percent of General Fund spending. The proposed cuts in ongoing expenses are projected to limit shortfalls in the following years to about $20 million a year – a gap that could be filled by creating annual efficiencies of 3 percent.
“Through a program of continuous improvement that increases our productivity by 3 percent, we can close a gap of $20 million every year,” said Executive Constantine. “If we stick to this plan, if we are focused and disciplined, we can create a government that is sustainable over time and that lives within its means.”
A proposal on the November ballot to raise the County sales tax by 2/10 of one percent would restore all the reductions to criminal justice program.
“The public can choose in November to maintain just the current level of criminal justice services by raising revenues,” said Executive Constantine. “If voters approve, we can restore the public safety services that are cut here. Or, the public can choose the sharply reduced level of public safety reflected in this budget.”
The proposed 2011 budget overall totals $5 billion, with $612.8 million for the General Fund. For the third year in a row, this General Fund is smaller than the year before – 2.3 percent less than the current year and 5.6 percent less than in 2009.
To help close the $60 million shortfall, the proposed budget cuts 462 positions in 2011, most of them in General Fund agencies. With inclusion of reductions the Council will decide for the legislative branch and likely reductions in the Transportation supplemental budget to be transmitted in mid-October, more than 500 total positions are likely to be eliminated.
The budget proposal cuts the Executive’s office by an additional 12 percent, on top of the 15 percent cut to staffing and a more than 10 percent cut to Executive office salaries he ordered upon taking office. Among other agencies that created efficiencies:
- Superior Court implemented an on-call system for jurors that allows them to remain home rather than reporting to the courthouse on the first day of jury duty and waiting until needed. The change will save the court mileage and per diem reimbursements, while saving jurors precious time. Savings: $322,332.
- The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention re-bid food contracts and secured lower costs for milk, bread, and eggs for inmates in its correctional facilities. Savings: $160,000.
- Jail Health Services switched to a new automatic medication packaging system that streamlines the dispensing process in the pharmacies and the provision of medications by nurses. Savings: $205,156.
- The Department of Development and Environmental Services put in place a number of administrative reductions related to implementation of the Permit Integration system, the Accountable Business Transformation (ABT) systems, the new fee structure, and reduced permitting activity. Savings: $250,000.
- The Elections Office eliminated the use of fresh paper stock for ballots that are unable to be processed through the machines. Savings: $30,000.
- The Facilities Management Division saved energy costs by reducing heating and ventilation operating hours, consolidating computer server rooms, and adjusting work schedules to eliminate shift differentials and overtime in building services. Savings: $950,750.
- The Sheriff’s Office reorganized four precincts to two, reducing the number of command staff and deputies. Savings: $664,832.
Even after efficiencies and technical adjustments are made, the Executive said his budget proposal must eliminate 252 positions in criminal justice agencies – the least harmful cuts that could be identified by working closely in a General Fund Cabinet with the King County Council, Sheriff, Prosecutor, and Judges.
“Meeting as a group, we have joined together in an unprecedented way as ‘One King County’ – yet even these ‘least harmful’ cuts that we have identified together will do harm to the quality of life for every resident of King County,” said Executive Constantine. “Though this budget is balanced, as required by law, it is an imperfect budget, and an unpleasant one. It makes reductions in critical services that I do not want to make, but which must be made in order to be in balance.”
“These kinds of cuts don’t make us any more efficient,” he added. “Many will cost us more in the long run, by shrinking the capacity of our criminal justice system, and terminating successful programs that keep our streets safer and our jail populations lower – threatening to undo years of groundbreaking work.”
Among the proposed reductions:
- Cutting 71 positions in the Sheriff’s department, including 28 of the most promising young deputies – a 20 percent reduction in patrol that will slow response to non-violent crimes and complaints in the unincorporated areas.
- Demoting 51 detectives and sergeants back to patrol, meaning the loss of criminal intelligence, property crime investigation, regional drug task forces, regional gang task forces, and much more.
- Eliminating 22 deputy prosecutors and 11 legal support staff, meaning more, and less favorable, plea bargains, and fewer prosecutions of economic crimes, juvenile offenders and violent crimes.
- Eliminating 42 positions in Superior Court and 22 in the Department of Judicial Administration, shutting down three-fourths of Family Court Services and causing families to come to court inadequately prepared.
- Eliminating 9 positions in District Court, including 6 probation officers, meaning convicted drunk drivers and domestic violence offenders will go unsupervised in the community.
- Eliminating successful juvenile alternatives to incarceration that will further burden public defense, and put young offenders on home detention, on the street or, at great expense, in jail.
- Closing inmate bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, leaving downtown Seattle as the only available booking site for felony suspects, and forcing police to spend their time shuttling inmates rather than patrolling streets.
- Removing the last money for human services in the General Fund, meaning dramatically less help for survivors of domestic violence, or victims of sexual assault.
“It is only with the deepest reluctance that we cut these human services, which the Council and I worked to save last year, because they are simply not required by law,” said Executive Constantine. “We are not doing right by the most vulnerable, but we are in a position where the things we know we should do are being sacrificed to preserve the things we’re required to do.”
If voters adopt the 2/10ths of one percent sales tax on the November ballot, Executive Constantine said he will propose to restore reductions to criminal justice programs, along with restoring human service programs that qualify as public health, domestic violence, sexual assault, and legal assistance services under the criminal justice definition in the state’s enabling legislation.
The Executive thanked elected officials for freezing their pay and that of their appointed staff, and he thanked the 14 bargaining units, to date, that have agreed to forego cost of living adjustments for next year, including court staff; jail captains; marine engineers, captains, and deckhands; animal control officers; and most recently, deputy prosecutors.
“I thank all those who have made, and those who will make, this sacrifice,” said Executive Constantine. “By sharing a bit of the pain, you have made it possible to restore some cuts in your workplaces, preserving services to the public and sparing the jobs of some of your co-workers.”
To close the shortfall, the budget proposal also raises revenue, mostly by selling contract services to cities but also instituting small increases in fees, including:
- A $30 increase in the surface water management fee per year per parcel to prevent flooding and improve drainage in the unincorporated areas, bringing King County slightly below the median of fees charged by all other cities in the county.
- A 5 percent surcharge for four years on permits from the Department of Development and Environmental Services, to support a permit integration project for improved customer service and relocation of the department’s functions related to permitting.
- Increases to some fees in Public Health to maintain service levels for a few programs in Environmental Health, Vital Statistics, and the Medical Examiner Office.
The Executive’s proposed budget maintains sufficient reserves that assure the County’s ability to respond to emergencies and retain its triple-A bond ratings that saves ratepayers on the cost of borrowed money.
“We face more tough times, but with all of us pulling together as ‘One King County,’ we can emerge from this recession in a position of national and global leadership,” he said. Concurrent with budget transmittal, the Executive launched an “open data” project that posts all of the detailed data behind the budget, in the same format used by the Council in its deliberations, to give residents easier access to budget data for research and development of new web applications.
The King County Council plans a number of public hearings on the budget and is set to adopt a final 2011 King County Budget on Nov. 22.
The Executive’s budget address will be rebroadcast on King County TV on Comcast and Broadstripe Cable Channel 22, along with the two subsequent news conferences, which will be replayed as a package at the following times:
Monday, Sept. 27
Tuesday, Sept. 28
9:30 a.m. & 8 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 29
1 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 30
9:30 a.m. & 8 p.m.