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County Council and Executive-branch agencies to reduce staff and freeze hiring to keep budget “lifeboat” afloat


Money saved by emergency actions will help maintain $1.5 million in critical programs without spending reserves needed to close 2010 budget shortfall


The Metropolitan King County Council today cut positions in its own staff and those in Executive-branch agencies, and froze hiring for non-essential County services, to help preserve most of the critical human services “lifeboat” programs in the 2009 King County budget. This budget amendment sponsored by Councilmembers Bob Ferguson, Dow Constantine, and Larry Gossett, enables the County to fund $1.5 million in lifeboat programs without spending any of the reserves set aside to help close the anticipated shortfall in the 2010 budget.

“With sales tax collections in decline and the prospect of more hard times ahead, we must take immediate, decisive action to protect critical public services,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine, a co-sponsor of the plan. “Last year’s budget used the ‘lifeboat’ concept—granting only partial-year funding to some programs to encourage the state Legislature to approve new revenue sources. The Legislature didn’t provide any new funding, so this proposal shifts existing revenues to maintain key human services programs.”

“Preserving the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens is critical, as is fiscal responsibility during this budget crisis,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, also a co-sponsor of the plan. “By making cuts in various agencies, including the Council, we reprioritized our funding and met both goals.”

“We were able to work with our colleagues to create a solution that preserves the out-year reserves necessary to help with the county’s projected 2010 budget shortfall,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee and a co-sponsor of the plan. “This plan allows us to continue providing vital services to the neediest members of our community.”

In the 2009 budget, many health and human services programs were placed in a six-month “lifeboat” that – without new revenue sources – was set to be eliminated on June 30.

Earlier this summer, the Executive proposed using more than $2 million in out-year reserves, set aside to help close the 2010 budget shortfall, to fund many of these lifeboat programs. However, with no identified future funding source for these programs and a projected $50 million general fund budget shortfall for 2010, many Councilmembers expressed concern about the Executive’s proposal.

Councilmembers Constantine, Ferguson and Gossett today introduced an alternative that has two goals: 1) to fund the most critical elements of the human services safety net and 2) to maintain the reserves that will be needed to close next year’s budget gap. Their proposal, which was adopted by the Council, achieves these goals by making deep cuts throughout the general fund and reprioritizing these dollars for the human services safety net.

As part of the plan, the County Council will cut $875,000 from its 2009 budget allocation by not filling vacant positions and transferring unspent funds reserved for two council-initiated programs. Also filling the gap will be $110,000 in unspent funds from the Elections Office and Department of Assessments, and $900,000 in cuts to Executive branch agencies. The Council also prioritized funding for those lifeboat programs that provide direct services to vulnerable populations and reduced the lifeboat funding amount for all programs by approximately one-third.

The Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee will act next week on lifeboat funding for public health programs.

The Council today also approved a hiring freeze proposed by Council Chair Constantine as an emergency measure. Savings from the hiring freeze through the end of 2009 help fund the remaining costs associated with the “lifeboat” so that no reserves earmarked to deal with next year’s budget gap will have to be spent.

The hiring freeze will not affect County employees whose jobs directly impact public health and safety, including Sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers, health care providers, and employees of the courts and prosecutor’s office. It also allows the County Executive to approve new hires in specific cases where a department can show that keeping a position vacant would actually increase costs to the County.

Read the supplemental budget ordinance

Read the hiring freeze ordinance
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