Proposed budget cuts bring crowd to Kent

More than 80 people packed a courtroom Thursday night at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent to protest the 2009 budget cuts King County Executive Ron Sims is proposing for the county's human-services, public-health and the criminal-justice departments.

Mark Hillman; a King County Superior Court family law commissioner; advocates for Family Court Services at a public hearing held Thursday at the Regional Justice Center. Family Court Services is one of the social services facing cuts under King County Executive Ron Sims' proposed budget.

Mark Hillman; a King County Superior Court family law commissioner; advocates for Family Court Services at a public hearing held Thursday at the Regional Justice Center. Family Court Services is one of the social services facing cuts under King County Executive Ron Sims' proposed budget.

More than 80 people packed a courtroom Thursday night at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent to protest the 2009 budget cuts King County Executive Ron Sims is proposing for the county’s human-services, public-health and the criminal-justice departments.

Sims is proposing the cuts in order to sustain a more than $90 million shortfall to county coffers projected for 2009.

The Metropolitan King County Council hosted the public hearing on the 2009 budget. The Council heard plea after plea from people who work in human services, public health or criminal justice, as well as from people who use those programs supported by the county.

Sims released his proposed $4.9 billion budget last week. It includes program cuts and 237 employee lay-offs in an effort to make up for the projected shortfall in the county general fund next year. The drop in revenues been caused by higher costs to do business, combined with less property- and sales-tax revenue.

The County Council will examine and amend the proposed budget over the next few weeks. The Council will vote Nov. 24 to adopt a final budget for the county.

“I’ve been on Council seven years and I’ve never seen this many people,” said Councilwoman Julia Patterson, whose District 5 includes Kent, to the standing-room only crowd at the start of the hearing. “That’s an indication of how troubled this budget is that there are so many here.”

The proposed cuts include $5.2 million to the Sheriff’s Office, $4 million to community and human services, $3 million to public health, $3 million to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, $2.3 million to adult and juvenile detention, $2.3 million to King County Superior Court and $1 million to judicial administration.

Many of those programs also face additional cuts in June 2009, if county officials fail to get the state to help fund those services. Sims has called for tapping the county’s reserve to help fund those programs, until next June. It’s part of his “lifeboat” proposal until state funding can be found.

Sims and other county officials plan to lobby the state Legislature for funding, even though the state faces a projected $3 billion deficit for its own two-year budget cycle that starts in 2009.

Step-Up, a county-funded domestic violence treatment program for teens who have been violent with parents or other family members, could be eliminated next June unless additional funding can be found.

Sage Baldwin, a Kent teen, testified at Thursday’s hearing about how much Step-Up helped him during his recent 13 weeks in the program.

“I was out of control,” Baldwin told the Council. “I would push my brother around. It’s done a world of good. Please fund the program.”

Three mothers of boys and girls in the Step-Up program also testified that the program turned their children into nonviolent teens, through counseling to control their violent and abusive behavior.

The county started the Step-Up program 10 years ago. The program receives $136,000 in funding per year out of judicial administration and serves about 75 families a year, said Lily Anderson, a program counselor, in a phone interview Friday.

Mark Hillman, a King County Superior Court commissioner, testified that proposed cuts in family court services would harm custody cases that involve parents who are victims of domestic violence.

“We will lose family court services and the victims of domestic violence can’t afford to be without it,” Hillman said.

Representatives of private organizations that fight violence also testified about county funding cuts. Sims proposed cutting $450,000 by next June in donations to the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. That county donation is good for about 20 percent of the center’s annual budget.

Several county public defenders told the County Council that a proposed 15 percent cut in their budget would be way too deep.

Many who testified wanted the Council to look at saving people before projects.

“I saw that Ron Sims wants millions of dollars for new computers,” said Gregory McPherson, who described himself as a county resident who didn’t represent any organization. “Does Ron Sims really need that more than people?”

The crowd applauded McPherson as he walked away from the podium. Those were the only cheers of the night.

For more information on the budget or to testify online, go to www.kingcounty.gov/council.


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