Rural residents raise concerns about public safety cutbacks
August 3, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
County Executive Dow Constantine trekked east to Hobart — and into the sometimes-tenuous relationship between county government and rural King County residents — for a forum last week.
Constantine said unincorporated-area and rural residents stand to bear the brunt of looming cuts to county services, including King County Sheriff’s Office deputy layoffs and cutbacks to the county court system.
“There is significant disconnect between the cost of doing business and the dollars available,” he said during the July 26 meeting at Hobart Community Church. “We’re scrounging and scrapping to find ways to protect the quality of life for 2 million people in this county.”
Inside the overheated church, Constantine heard from leaders of the six unincorporated area councils — citizen groups elected by residents in regions as disparate as Vashon Island and rural Maple Valley. The unincorporated county is home to about 340,000 of the 1.9 million county residents.
The group includes Four Creeks, home to about 14,000 residents in a swath stretched between Issaquah and Renton. The area encompasses Maple Hills, May Valley, Mirrormont and other communities south of Issaquah city limits.
Tom Carpenter, Four Creeks Unincorporated Area Council president, and the other leaders highlighted accomplishments and ongoing problems, rather than specific laundry-list requests at the annual forum.
Carpenter said the Four Creeks group had enlisted the Geographic Information System program at Green River Community College to map the 33-square-mile Four Creeks area. The council also planned and funded a National Night Out celebration at Maple Hills Elementary School.
The council presidents raised concerns about projected cuts to the county criminal justice system.
Constantine and other leaders must tackle a $60 million budget deficit next year, and the gap could force deep cuts to spending.
“We’re dealing with unprecedentedly difficult financial times, so that really puts a strain on our ability to do just about every single thing we’re charged with doing,” he said before the meeting.
Constantine said a proposed 0.2-cent-per-$1 sales tax increase could stave off cuts to the criminal justice system. The proposal goes before voters on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Cuts “in every aspect of the criminal justice system are simply bad for the quality of life for every resident of King County, particularly unincorporated residents,” Constantine said.
Besides the proposed tax increase, the county has laid off employees, trimmed programs and — in a decision announced by Constantine last month — frozen salaries for the executive and other top managers.
“It is a tall order, but we’ve set forth a model that can protect quality of life, that’s reasonable and that requires continued sharing of the sacrifice by all of the employees of King County, and a request to the people as well that they help make up some of the revenue that’s been lost over the last several years,” he said.
Constantine also touted changes to the Department of Development and Environmental Services, the county permitting agency and a frequent point of contention between leaders and rural residents. The agency plans to switch from unpopular hourly fees to fixed fees next year. Constantine has also called for creating a section dedicated to rural permitting.
He has directed county departments to focus on customer service and reform — key components of a strategic plan adopted by the County Council the same day as the forum.
“We want to make sure that folks understand that we are working for change and reform in the county government to put us on sound financial footing, to develop better customer service and to really put together the partnerships that will allow us to be able to deliver services in the future,” he said.
The forum marked another milestone for Constantine. He had pledged to visit all 39 cities in King County and, after a trip to Federal Way last week, he had reached 33 since taking office eight months earlier. Rural residents thanked him for making the trip east for the forum.
“I don’t think we could have found a place further from Seattle,” Greater Maple Valley Area Council President Steve Heister said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.
On the Web
Learn more about the Four Creeks Area Unincorporated Council at www.fourcreeks.org.