County budget preserves public safety, Metro funds

November 24, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

Among the winners in the 2010 budget approved by the King County Council: Metro bus riders and domestic violence prevention programs. The losers include county-run animal shelters and the council and county executive, whose staffs will be trimmed to save money.

County Council  members adopted the budget in a unanimous vote Nov. 23. Officials said law enforcement and safety services would be protected under the plan, while administrative expenses would be cut. The budget eliminates more than 300 county positions.

Klahanie Park — threatened with shutdown under earlier proposals — will remain open under the 2010 budget. County and Sammamish officials are at work on a proposal to transfer the park to the city.

County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who represents Issaquah, said public safety was a top priority. Constituents also asked for social service programs to be protected amid the economic downturn.

Lambert said council members led by example and cut analysts and other administrative personnel from the council staff.

“Cutting employees is very difficult,” she said after the vote.

But the move would give the council leverage in future years if members ask other agencies to cut positions as well, she added.

Since she was elected in 2001, Lambert said her office has limited spending and returned $110,000 to county coffers.

More cuts are forecast for next year: County officials face a cumulative budget shortfall of more than $140 million through 2011-12.

Despite the budget crisis, officials preserved funding for public safety and criminal justice, and staved off cuts to Metro bus service.

“I understand the difficult position the council faced this year and I appreciate the approach they took in reaching out and listening to not only the criminal justice agencies but to citizens,” King County Sheriff Sue Rahr said in a statement. “Residents from unincorporated King County turned out in record numbers this year to encourage the council to prioritize public safety and I’m happy to say this council listened to them.”

Lambert said she was pleased the budget protected the sheriff’s office from cuts, because her district includes large swaths of unincorporated King County served by deputies. She said law enforcement officers are important to city police departments, too, because the city agencies often rely on deputies for backup.

Metro bus service will be preserved as officials shift taxes from the county ferry district to the transit agency and incorporate ways to make Metro more efficient, such as cutting the amount of time buses lay over at the end of each trip, and allowing Metro to sell bus-wrap advertising.

The council also saved nearly $1.4 million for domestic violence, sexual assault and legal aid programs.

After hearing testimony from domestic violence and sexual assault victims at public hearings, council members restored funding to 2009 levels for the next budget.

The programs are aimed to prevent domestic violence through education and outreach to families. The budget restores $764,000 to prevent domestic violence, $504,000 to sexual assault prevention and $108,000 for a legal aid program to support families with children.

But the council failed to spare other services. As a money-saving measure, county-run animal shelters will close by Jan. 31 and nonprofit organizations will step in to care for sheltered animals. After June 30, county animal-control officers will no longer serve Issaquah and other King County cities.

The council also felt the budget squeeze: Members trimmed their budget by 13 percent and cut seven positions. The budget for the county executive’s office was cut by 10 percent.

“The council has crafted a budget that protects public safety, keeps parks open in the unincorporated areas, and restores funding for key domestic violence and legal aid programs,” council chairman and county Executive-elect Dow Constantine said in a news release. “There have been many hard choices this year, but basic services have been protected, including Metro Transit.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink contributed to this report. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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