King County Council adopts ‘stable and balanced’ 2012 budget

November 15, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

In a unanimous decision Nov. 9, King County Council members adopted a $5.2 billion budget for 2012 focused on basic human needs, such as food and shelter, and maintenance for aging roads in rural and unincorporated areas.

The total includes a $650 million general fund budget — dollars for elections, law enforcement and other basic government functions. Leaders did not tap reserves for the 2012 spending plan.

“This stable and balanced budget is a product of a decadelong effort to respond to shrinking revenues by cutting costs while maintaining our high bond ratings through sound fiscal management,” Councilman Larry Phillips said.

The budget outlines a plan for some streets in rural and unincorporated areas near Issaquah to receive reduced maintenance and a lower priority for snow removal.

In turn, King County plans to shift attention to heavily traveled roads, such as Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast.

“How are we going to preserve what we have and keep it as safe as possible? My main thing that I heard was snow removal,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative and a budget team member, said the day after the council adopted the budget. “We will have snowplows available to every single part of King County. Now, will they be there at the first snowflake? No. It will be prioritized by the most heavily traveled, but that makes sense.”

The council reorganized County Executive Dow Constantine’s budget proposal to address basic human needs.

“This budget responds to the most basic human needs of those struggling from the recession, as nearly 190,000 King County residents are now living below the federal poverty line,” Councilwoman Julia Patterson, budget team leader, said in a statement.

Rather than allocating human service funds through a request for proposal process, council members directed $1 million in onetime funds to local nonprofit organizations.

Food Lifeline received dollars to address hunger. The council directed funds to YWCA of Seattle-King-Snohomish for homeless services and another equal share of the $1 million to the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence to assist domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.

“It makes a real difference in the lives of survivors,” Merril Cousin, King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence executive director, said the day after the council adopted the budget. “In dollar sense, it is a good chunk of money, but compared to the need, it doesn’t begin to address it.”

The council, acting a year after a sharp debate about the King County Sheriff’s Office, adopted a budget to preserve police and court services for 2012.

The spending plan increases the public defense budget to reduce the overall felony caseload maintained by the attorneys representing indigent defendants in the criminal justice system. The budget also preserves staffing levels in District Court and Superior Court, and restores a critical investigative child-find detective to advocate for child safety in dangerous custody cases.

“This budget is stable but builds on cuts from prior years to our criminal justice system,” Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn said in a statement. “I am pleased that we have been able to restore storefront deputies and provide funding to fight gangs over the past year.”

The council usually adopts the annual county budget the Monday before Thanksgiving. Like last year, the council adopted the budget early.

“This quickened decisive action on the budget is without precedent, and it’s made possible by the partnership we have created with the council, our employees and our employee unions,” Constantine said in a statement. “Our practice of teamwork and respect is setting an example and building confidence across the region. As called for in our strategic plan, we are truly working together for one King County.”

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

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