City to shoulder county budget burdens

December 2, 2008

By Jon Savelle

Local nonprofit groups have to get by on less

The Metropolitan King County Council has passed a budget for 2009 that plugs, at least temporarily, a $93 million hole in the general fund. But while that is good for the county, it will have a decidedly mixed effect on Issaquah. The county’s general fund is a $627.8 million chunk of a $4.9 billion budget.

The county’s 2009 budget reflects the County Council’s desire to maintain funding for public health, safety and quality of life. Compared to County Executive Ron Sims proposal, funding was maintained for alternative sentencing programs; retained funding for Sheriff’s Office community storefronts; and kept agriculture and forestry units.

The council budget also funds the Drug Diversion Court, Unified Family Court Services, the Mental Health Court and public health centers.

To achieve this, the council enacted more than $10 million in one-time cuts to future maintenance needs, some technology projects and some lower priority programs. The council left intact cuts to the Prosecutor’s Office, which will result in fewer prosecutions.

Those responsibilities probably will fall on cities, said Issaquah City Administrator Leon Kos. Cases once handled by the county prosecutor are likely to be reduced to lesser offenses and shifted to the cities for prosecution as misdemeanors, he said, adding that that would, in turn, lead to increased caseloads for Municipal Court, more violent offenders in the city jail and higher costs.

“We have to start looking at where we start making cuts,” he said.

Apart from city government, local nonprofit groups that have relied on county grants have to get by with less. Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery is one example. Executive Director Gestin Suttle said the group had requested a county grant of $25,000 for 2009, but the actual amount awarded was $15,000.

“We are grateful for any amount, because we know it is a really tough year,” she said. “But that is $10,000 less than we were seeking. I’m not sure how we will make that up. That’s what the board will be deciding.”

Despite the hardships, King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert pronounced herself pleased with the budget process. The representative for District 3, which includes Issaquah and the entire county to the north and east, Lambert served as vice chair of the council’s Operating Budget Panel.

“Our ability to make these cuts and live within our means has enabled us to maintain and enhance our rainy day reserve fund,” she said. “Even though the economy is stormy now, we must be prepared in case of a worsening tempest.”

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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