Responsible budgeting maintains AAA credit rating
StoryThe Metropolitan King County Council today adopted a $ 7.6 billion King County Budget that meets current challenges and makes strategic investments that prepare the County for the future.
“This budget emphasizes responsible fiscal management that maintains our credit rating at the highest AAA level, which gives us the best credit rating,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Vice Chair of the Budget Leadership Team. “A high credit rating saves the taxpayers millions of dollars in interest annually.”
The budget includes the $685 million General Fund Budget, of which 73 percent supports public safety and criminal justice costs.
“I am pleased we were able to keep most of the staff positions in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” Lambert said. “It is important to preserve the ability of the prosecutor’s office to respond to criminal justice needs.”
The health and human services safety net received a one-time allocation of $1.3 million to support domestic violence shelters, legal aid, services for sexual assault survivors and housing services. Among agencies supported in the budget are Eastside Baby Corner, Eastside Legal Assistance and Hopelink.
“Having a safety net of services to refer people to also helps people stabilize their lives,” said Councilmember Lambert, who also serves as Chair of the Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “We were able to maintain funding for the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program that benefits children and families caught up in the legal system, using trained volunteers to represent the best interests of a child in custody cases. Funding for an additional staff position will allow coordination of CASA volunteers to work for the best outcomes for kids.
“Another priority is maintaining funding for local government service,” Councilmember Lambert added. “Those living in unincorporated rural areas depend on King County for local government programs. Among the rural programs we were able to maintain were full funding for our agricultural services and agricultural ditch drainage program.”
One important concern remaining is the declining revenues in the unincorporated area road fund. This fund has problems for several reasons, for instance, the number of people paying into this fund has been reduced by nearly one-third due to annexations of some areas into cities. These annexations move the taxes into cities, while more than 90 percent of the roads remain in the county’s unincorporated area. This funding problem needs to be fixed in Olympia. In addition to fewer people paying into the road fund, the lower assessed value of many homes means less money for roads, also.
Because of these funding problems, the level of services that can be provided will fall further behind community needs. The budget identifies efficiencies and strategic plans to improve productivity with the existing funding. Additionally, Councilmember Lambert fought to make sure that snow removal and winter storm response activities were funded as much as possible.
“Our transportation challenges are going to require comprehensive solutions and partnering with the state as we continue to have unmet maintenance needs for our rural roads,” she said. “This budget responds to what can be accomplished with less available revenue by continuing to prioritize the highest needs. Meanwhile, we will continue to work with the Legislature on developing sustainable funding options.”
Councilmember Lambert praised the budget deliberation process, which involved hearing testimony from hundreds of citizens at committee and town hall meetings as well as collaboration with the Executive’s budget office and through e-mails.
“I appreciate the willingness of my colleagues to work in a collaborative manner on the process of negotiating, investigating, and analyzing revenues and expenses, which is what our citizens want us to do,” she said. “Together, we explored new options for generating savings such as merging county departments to minimize administrative staffing to looking at systems and greater efficiencies.”