Maintaining public services in face of economic slowdown
Facing a gap between projected revenues and expenses for next year approaching 50 million dollars, the Metropolitan King County Council today adopted a set of priorities to guide the County Executive’s development of a budget plan for 2010, with priority placed on efficiency in government and the protection of public safety, health and human services, and the physical environment.
“The economic challenges facing King County call upon us to find ways to maintain the safety net for our most needy and vulnerable populations, and to provide mandated services in a period of shrinking revenues,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett, chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “The priorities we adopted today reflect the idea that in protecting the safety, health, and quality of life of King County citizens, we must look beyond our standard way of preparing the budget.”
“Let’s get our budget balanced the same way that King County families do theirs,” said Councilmember Jane Hague, Vice Chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.
“Given King County government’s budget crisis, it is important that we ‘clean our house’ by finding new ways of doing more with less,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, a member of the Budget Leadership Team. “Increasing government efficiency is a key component of this year’s budget priorities document, and a new addition from years past.”
“This budget direction to the Executive branch outlines Council priorities. To create a County budget with less tax revenue will take all departments working together, with each department providing its services in the most economical and efficient way possible,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, a member of the Budget Leadership Team. “This motion prioritizes public safety for our local and regional governmental duties. Citizens need to feel safe in their homes, businesses, and in the community. This is a central role of government.”
The legislation recognizes the widening structural gap between the cost of continuing current services and the revenues available to support those services. At the same time, demand for County services continues to increase. Given these challenges, the Council intends for the 2010 budget to be one that prioritizes:
• Council-initiated efficiencies: The Council will implement the savings identified by an ongoing performance audit of Metro Transit as well as the recommendations from the Capital Project Oversight office to improve the County’s capital budgeting processes and examine the continued feasibility of all capital projects.
• Personnel costs: The Council acknowledges the recent achievements by the County workforce to reduce costs through the Health Reform Initiative, the 10-day unpaid furlough this year, and increases in co-payments for health insurance. Given the current crisis, the Council will continue to examine creative ways of reducing the overall costs related to personnel.
• Strategic planning: The Council will continue to pursue the savings and efficiencies from past operational plans for public health and correctional facilities, and from a new operational master plan for roads services.
• Department savings: All departments will be expected to propose budgets that focus on business models and practices that result in cost savings and efficiencies while maintaining a commitment to a high level of service.
• Sheriff: The Executive is encouraged to identify sufficient funding for patrol and law enforcement activities necessary to maintain public safety in the unincorporated areas and the region as a whole, along with sufficient funding to provide needed equipment for regional emergency services.
• District Court: The budget should support the vital Mental Health Court that addresses individuals who are more appropriately dealt with by mental health professionals rather than incarceration.
• Superior Court and Judicial Administration: The budget should support the vital Drug Court for those more appropriately dealt with through diversion and treatment.
• Public Defense: The budget should identify sufficient funding for effective defense for the near-indigent consistent with the County’s adopted public defense payment model.
• Prosecuting Attorney: The budget should support criminal division implementation of more efficient felony case processing and replacement of the prosecutor’s management information system.
• Adult and juvenile detention: The budget should continue funding the programs that are part of the Adult and Juvenile Justice Operational Master Plans (AJOMP and JJOMP) that have proven to save money within the criminal justice system.
HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
• Public health: The budget should maintain public health as a core value of the county consistent with the Public Health Operational Master Plan, move towards a stable and predictable county contribution to the health care safety net, and prioritize programs that are most effective in reducing involvement in the criminal justice system.
• Human services: The budget should maintain the core human services safety net programs that provide critical, life-saving services, as demand increases in a deteriorating economy.
• Transportation: The budget should maintain the long-term ideal of improving transportation options and providing greater mobility for people, vehicles and freight. With a potential $168 million deficit facing Metro over the next two years, a collaborative process that includes customers and stakeholders should be undertaken to guide the difficult choices between how much transit service is delivered and how that service is delivered to customers.
• Solid waste management: Expenditures should be managed within the adopted 2008-2010 rate structure for the utility.
• Water and land resources: Without new revenue authority sought from the state, the Executive should review existing revenue options and engage stakeholders and policymakers on the choices between reducing or eliminating programs.
• Parks and recreation: Without new revenue authority sought from the state, the Executive should identify policy options for local parks in potential annexation areas.
For the first time, the Council’s 2010 budget priorities were developed in coordination with the Council’s standing policy committees, which identified their areas of concern and transmitted their priorities to the Council’s budget leadership team.
The motion also calls upon the Governor and state Legislature to permanently address the structural funding gap facing all counties in Washington state by authorizing expanded types of revenues for local jurisdictions that provide for sufficient growth to meet rising annual costs and have the flexibility of helping to fund basic public services.