Councilman urges King County to find better plan to fund public safety

December 7, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Reagan Dunn urged other King County Council members last week to create a “priority commission” to determine how the cash-strapped county can fund the criminal justice system.

The county councilman offered the proposal less than a month after voters rejected a sales tax hike meant to limit cuts to the King County Sheriff’s Office and county courts. The idea received a cool reception from other County Council members and County Executive Dow Constantine.

The council later cut more than 20 deputies from the sheriff’s office in a lean 2011 budget. Dunn argued against the criminal justice cuts and refused to approve the spending plan.

Locally, Liberty High School is scheduled to lose a school resource officer as a result of the cuts, and a police storefront near Issaquah is due to close.

“The people told us in November that they won’t approve new taxes right now. I don’t believe they meant to say that the criminal justice system is not important,” Dunn said in a statement. “They weren’t given the opportunity to prioritize where their tax dollars should go. I think they should be given that option.”

Dunn represents rural King County near Issaquah, plus Newcastle and parts of Bellevue and Renton.

The proposed motion calls for Constantine to appoint representatives from the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices, the county court system and the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention — plus representatives from domestic violence, sexual assault and environmental groups — to the commission.

The commission is to study how to fund the criminal justice system in a “tax neutral” arrangement. Dunn said the proposal could be put before voters in 2011.

Dunn also included a timeline in the proposal. The motion calls on Constantine to create the commission by Feb. 28 and for the commission to report to the council by May 31.

“King County’s revenue sources are fundamentally broken,” Dunn said. “It doesn’t make any sense that this government has $19 million to buy a gravel pit, but doesn’t have the money to fund its criminal justice system.”

The gravel pit reference is a swipe at the decision to use $19.1 million from the conservation fund to purchase a Maury Island gravel mine and turn the land into a county park. Local environmental groups intend to repay $2 million into the fund through private fundraising.

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

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