Leaders pledge ‘draconian’ cuts after sales tax defeat

November 9, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

In the half-dozen years Dave Montalvo has served as the Liberty High School resource officer, the requests start just before homecoming and prom: Students ask for a boy or girl to be caught in a traffic stop as part of a detailed ruse to ask for a date.

The longtime King County Sheriff’s Office deputy said the ritual helps build bonds between students and law enforcement officers. Despite the success, Montalvo could be reassigned to patrol duty soon.

“I come in here with more of an educational attitude rather than with a punitive attitude,” he said. “Just by working with the kids and explaining the circumstances and bad decisions, rather than saying, ‘I’m going to throw the book at you every time that I can,’ really makes a difference in making relationships.”

The cash-strapped county could reassign Montalvo and other school resource officers, close police storefronts in rural areas, lay off deputies and reduce court services.

Proposition 1 — the countywide measure to raise the sales tax rate to 2 cents per $10 purchase to limit the proposed cuts — collapsed in double-digit defeat on Election Day. Officials estimated a $35 million boon next year and $48 million in 2012.

Instead, King County budget leaders said the defeat means “draconian” cuts in order to close a $60 million shortfall.

‘The funds are simply not there’

County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, chairwoman of the Budget Leadership Team, and Councilman Larry Gossett, another budget team member, decried the defeat in a statement released the morning after Election Day. The council is expected to adopt a 2011 spending plan Nov. 22.

“The result of the election leaves us with few options — and all of those options are draconian,” the statement read. “Services that protect our most vulnerable citizens and provide options for people who need treatment more than a jail cell are not going to be available because the funds are simply not there.”

(Councilwoman Kathy Lambert and Councilman Reagan Dunn also serve on the budget team, but both Issaquah-area representatives had reservations about the proposed tax hike.)

“The voters have been clear in their choice and we are prepared to make the necessary cuts to public safety to balance this budget,” the statement from Patterson and Gossett read.

If the county ends the school resource officer program, Issaquah School District leaders could attempt to keep Montalvo or another deputy at Liberty High School.

The district defrays the salary for a school resource officer. The district covers about a third of the salary for the school year, or $36,000. If the county ends the school resource officer program, the district could renegotiate or end the agreement.

Montalvo, the school resource officer, said the program could pay dividends later in crime prevention.

“The impressions you make now when they’re young are going to go a long way when they become adults,” he said.

‘We voted against the measure’

County Executive Dow Constantine proposed deep cuts to criminal justice services in September and then asked voters to consider the sales tax increase to limit layoffs and service reductions.

The proposed cuts irked Tom Pruitt, a longtime resident and public safety advocate in the Four Creeks Unincorporated Area between Issaquah and Renton.

“Every time that there is a budget problem, the sheriff goes on the chopping block,” he said. “That’s nonsense. That’s craziness to us.”

Pruitt, alongside wife Florence, pushed the overextended sheriff’s office to close a drug den in a duplex across the street in 2007.

Tom Pruitt is also a supporter of the police storefront in the community. Florence Pruitt volunteers at the space.

“We voted against the measure — not against the sheriff,” Tom Pruitt said. “We voted against the taxes in the sense that we should never have been in this place in the first place.”

Instead, leaders must find other savings in the $612.8 million budget used to fund criminal justice services.

Frank Abe, a spokesman for Constantine, said the only alternative is further cuts to public safety programs, because the leaders had enacted deep reductions to other programs in prior years.

“The county has already taken everything else out of the general fund that it can possibly can, leaving only those services that are mandated by law: elections, assessments, general government,” he said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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