Unincorporated King County residents avoid $20 roads fee
December 18, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Residents in unincorporated King County — including Klahanie, Mirrormont and Preston in the Issaquah area and more than 200,000 people countywide — no longer face a $20 vehicle-license fee to fund road maintenance.
King County Council members dropped the proposed fee from the 2013 county budget, and approved the spending plan Nov. 13 in a unanimous decision. Instead, officials plan to lobby the state government for additional road dollars — a challenge as the state faces another budget shortfall next year.
In September, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a $20 fee to fund road maintenance and storm response in rural and unincorporated areas.
Under county rankings for roads in unincorporated areas, Southeast High Point Way between Issaquah and Preston, and Southeast High Point Way on Tiger Mountain fall on the bottom tier, and receive almost no snow and storm response, and limited maintenance.
On the Web
Read the complete 2013 King County budget at www.kingcounty.gov/council.aspx. Learn more about the King County Road Services Division’s tiered plan for service — and see a map of affected roads — at www.kingcounty.gov/ transportation/kcdot/Roads/ NewServiceLevels.aspx.
Constantine presented the fee as a way to extend maintenance and storm cleanup on about 1,500 miles of roadway in unincorporated King County.
Officials said motorists can access Tier 5 roads, such as Southeast High Point Way and Southeast High Point Way, from alternate routes in the event of closures. Most streets in Klahanie and Mirrormont rank as Tier 5. So do 238th Way Southeast at the base of Tiger Mountain just beyond the southern Issaquah city limits and streets in the High Valley area on southwest Squak Mountain.
Other roads in the Issaquah area, including streets in Preston and near Lake Kathleen, rank as Tier 4 — or residential dead-end roads without another outlet.
Tier 4 road users can expect to see the streets turn to single-lane roads — or gravel — in the future as funding dwindles. Residents should also expect almost no snow and storm response on such roads.
The fee proposal arrived about a year after Constantine unveiled a tier system to rank roads in unincorporated areas.
Rather than enacting the fee and creating a transportation benefit district in unincorporated areas, officials plan to lobby state legislators for a comprehensive state transportation package to address road maintenance.
“The proposal to enact a transportation benefit district was a small solution to a very large problem,” Councilman Joe McDermott, Budget Leadership Team chief, said in a statement. “You will find the county in Olympia with a diverse and committed group of allies asking for a dedicated and adequate funding source for roads and transit.”
Under the county rankings, Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast and Southeast Issaquah-Fall City Road fall into the top tier. Tier 1 roads connect large communities, major services and critical infrastructure. Officials said the roads should receive the highest level of storm response and the fastest snow removal.
Countywide, 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 further during future winter weather, depending on resources.
The shortfall stems from 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 county Road Services Division has eliminated about 200 positions.
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.
Dollars for King County criminal justice system
Officials said the $7.6 billion county budget allocates $685 million to the general fund — the source of dollars for elections, law enforcement and other basic government functions. King County Council budget team members said 73 percent of dollars from the fund go toward public safety and criminal justice programs.
The budget does not dip into cash reserves or the county’s rainy day fund.
Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative on the council and a budget team member, said using more efficient practices in the criminal justice system saved the county money.
“With better coordination, savings in one department will have a ripple effect among the sheriff’s office, courts, prosecutors and jails, while also improving outcomes for those caught up in the criminal justice system,” she said in a statement.
The spending plan preserves funding and staffing for King County District and Superior courts, and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.
The budget allocates funding to ensure the King County Sheriff’s Office has sufficient resources to maintain and replace the commissioned officers for patrol, as the agency faces a growing number of retirements.
The council raised some fees in the budget, including building permit and surface water management fees.
Officials included $1.3 million in onetime funds to support domestic violence shelters, legal aid, services for sexual assault survivors, post-incarceration education and housing services.
The budget includes support for gang intervention programs and to improve educational opportunities for offenders transitioning from incarceration.
In the document, council members asked Constantine to work with cities in the county solid waste system — including Issaquah — to determine if a long-term investment in upgrading transfer stations is needed, or if officials should re-evaluate the process.