King County expects layoffs, reduced road maintenance
September 4, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
King County expects to lay off 54 road workers and officials said the lack of attention on roads could mean further deterioration.
Officials also plan to leave 11 vacant jobs unfilled — for a total reduction of 65 jobs in the county Road Services Division — due to a drop in tax revenues. The reduction is expected to go into effect early next year, as the 2013 budget goes into effect.
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the reductions Aug. 23. The loss of funding could mean reduced maintenance to correct problems, such as potholes, and a slower response during snow and ice storms.
The county is responsible for about 1,500 miles of roadway, but the reduction in revenue means less maintenance, especially of roads in rural areas.
The road overlay program is shrinking. Officials said only 11 miles of deteriorated roadway could be repaved before year’s end. In the next budget cycle, the county might not have any local funding for paving, unless officials gain additional revenue sources.
The county cut pothole repairs by almost half in recent years; by 2013, pothole filling and patching could be reduced by almost 65 percent.
Officials said reduced maintenance could force speed reductions, and bridge and lane closures, in order to preserve deteriorating roads.
Crews conducted about 20 percent less snow and ice removal this year, due to a lack of staffing. The county could cut plowing and sanding by one-third, depending on resources, during future winter weather.
Constantine blamed state legislators for failing to pass bills to grant counties the authority to create revenue sources for roads and transit.
“We said at the time there would be consequences if the state didn’t free us to solve this funding crisis, and now we’re seeing them,” he said in a statement. “The current system for funding local roads across the state hasn’t been revisited in decades, and it no longer works.”
Local property tax revenue and a separate roads levy support the County Road Fund. The county collects $2.25 per $1,000 in assessed value through the levy.
In recent years, annexations of unincorporated areas into nearby cities, lower property valuations and a dip in gas tax revenue caused the fund to drop 25 percent, from $128 million to $96 million. Since 2010, the Road Services Division has eliminated about 200 positions.
The county also experienced a 44 percent decline in the value of property assessments during the past four years in unincorporated areas. The average homeowner in most areas of unincorporated King County should pay about $90 less per year for road services next year than they paid in 2011.
“As home values have declined, the funds that King County can collect for maintaining county roads has declined significantly as well,” Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative on the King County Council, said in a statement. “At the same time, road costs are increasing, and the result is substantially less funding for road maintenance and repair in our large unincorporated areas.”
The recent announcement came about a year after Constantine unveiled a tier system to rank roads in unincorporated areas. Under the system, the most-used arterials receive the highest level of maintenance, snow and ice removal, and storm response. Meanwhile, low-priority roads someday could be downgraded to gravel.
Key arteries — such as Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast and Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road — remain top priorities for maintenance, snow removal and storm cleanup. But the county placed other local streets on a lower tier, including Tiger Mountain Road Southeast and sections of Southeast May Valley Road west of state Route 900.