With $90 million shortfall looming, King County plans local budget hearings

With what is now projected to be a $90 million shortfall in the County general fund for 2009, the Metropolitan King County Council has declared public safety, health and quality of life as its first priorities for funding in the County budget. The public will have a chance to speak to its priorities at the first of six public hearings that have been scheduled through the county.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, October 8, 2008 10:12pm
  • News

With what is now projected to be a $90 million shortfall in the County general fund for 2009, the Metropolitan King County Council has declared public safety, health and quality of life as its first priorities for funding in the County budget. The public will have a chance to speak to its priorities at the first of six public hearings that have been scheduled through the county.

Led by Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the 2009 Budget Review and Adoption Committee, the first two public hearings will be:

• Oct. 14 – Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus, 24635 Southeast Issaquah Fall City Road, Issaquah

• Oct. 16 – Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center, Courtroom 3F, 401 Fourth Ave. N., Kent

Four more hearings are set in different regions of King County to allow all residents to share their testimony:

• Oct. 21 – Finn Hill Junior High School, 8040 N.E. 132nd St., Kirkland

• Oct. 23 – Shoreline Conference Center, Shoreline Room, 18560 First Ave. N.E., Shoreline

• Tuesday, October 28 – King County Council Chambers, 516 Third Ave., Room 1200, Seattle

• Nov. 10 – King County Council Chambers, 516 Third Ave., Room 1200, Seattle, starting at 1:30 p.m.

All meetings begin at 7 p.m. Day-after coverage of the public hearings will be available both online and on King County Television, seen on Comcast and Broadstripe Cable Channel 22.

County Executive Ron Sims will transmit his proposed 2009 budget to the Council Oct. 13. The priorities developed by members of the Council’s budget leadership team identify some preliminary areas for finding budget efficiencies, in advance of the transmittal of the executive proposed budget:

PROTECTING PRIORITIES:

Public safety, health, and quality of life

The Metropolitan King County Council provides fiscal integrity and accountability by setting spending priorities based on public expectations, funding programs consistent with those priorities, and measuring results. Led by the Budget Leadership Team, the Council on Aug. 4 established its intent through its budget deliberations to:

· Declare the protection of public safety, health and enhancement of quality of life to be its top priority, and that before reducing funding in those areas it would look first to reduce or eliminate services deemed non-essential and use a prudent portion of existing reserves to preserve essential services in the short term,

· Encourage County government to become more entrepreneurial and seek partnerships with both public and private sector partners that allow the county to leverage additional resources for funding essential services, and

· Develop a sustainable budget in the long term by looking beyond departmental cuts and focusing on policy and programmatic changes that would make a difference in the County’s overall costs of doing business.

In particular, the Council called upon the County Executive to examine the following specific areas in his budget proposal:

· Annexations: Refocus the $8 million in reserves that remain of funds set aside for the King County Annexation Initiative to those potential annexation areas that are actively being considered by local cities, and redirecting remaining funds towards public safety services in the urban unincorporated areas. After four years and more than $2 million in operations and staffing costs, only two of the largest urban unincorporated areas have successfully annexed, resulting in only minimal savings to the County.

· Property holdings: Evaluate real property owned by the general fund for the feasibility of selling parcels to close the budget gap.

· Capital project prioritization: Analyze all County capital improvement projects and the need for continuing with them in relation to the provision of core County services.

· Animal welfare: Ensure that the proposed 2009 budget conforms to the operational master plan for the provision of sustainable and timely humane animal welfare services by King County and partner agencies.

· Fees: Highlight any fees for service that return less to the County than the cost of providing that service.

· Business Relations and Economic Development: Examine those services of this office that do not pay for themselves from revenues outside the general fund.

· Jail beds: Make more bed spaces in King County jails available to local cities, which pay more for housing of their inmates than does the state.

· Unfunded state mandates: Provide a list of all unfunded mandates from the state of Washington that continue to shift the financial burden to county governments. The list will include the cost incurred by the County to provide the services, so that the Council can develop strategies for their reimbursement, reduction or elimination.

· Internal services: Enable separately-elected officials to determine what level of overhead services they wish to pay for and receive, such as janitorial services, fleet maintenance or computer support, in order to free up more of their budgets toward public services, such as police patrols.

The Council also called 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.


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