King County proposes no-cuts budget
September 28, 2011
By Dan Catchpole
For the first time since 2009, King County’s budget proposal has no cuts in it. Efficiencies and cost savings are to thank, County Executive Dow Constantine said when he presented his 2012 budget proposal to the County Council on Sept. 26.
“My proposed budget is balanced, with no further cuts to services in the General Fund, by working with employees to make this government more efficient,” Constantine said. “Surrounded everywhere by seas of red ink, we have made King County an island of relative stability.”
Constantine’s budget is $5.3 billion, with $648 million in the General Fund.
A year ago, King County had projected it would have a $20 million shortfall in next year’s budget.
But with cost-cutting and improved operations, “that deficit has been more than wiped out,” Constantine said.
The largest savings came from a projected $61 million in savings over the next two years to the county’s employee health care costs. That includes $38 million in 2012.
Constantine credited the health care cost savings to the county’s Healthy Incentives program.
“Clearly, our employees’ health and the county’s fiscal health go hand in hand,” he said.
The cost reductions saved jobs in his proposed budget for sheriff’s deputies, deputy prosecutors and public health nurses.
County employees suggested efficiencies and cost-saving measures that are expected to save the county $32 million next year, he said.
These efficiencies include consolidating computer servers for all departments into a single data center, making better use of office space and getting rid of 54 unnecessary county vehicles.
To save the county money in the future, Constantine’s budget puts $2.7 million into its rainy day fund. That would push the fund above the 6 percent level needed for the county to keep its AAA bond rating.
He also proposed setting aside $9.1 million in other reserves to buffer against uncertainty in future sales tax revenues.
Constantine also proposed creating a one-time fund of $1 million to award grants under $25,000 to nonprofit groups providing human services. Under his proposal, the grants could be used for capital improvement, technology or capacity building.
The proposed budget includes spending on collaboration with The Boeing Co. and Group Health to redesign obsolete and cumbersome business practices.
The partnership has already turned renewing license tabs by mail from a three-week process into one that takes five or fewer days.
Constantine’s budget also calls for piloting a product-based budget in six agencies that is meant to make it more apparent to the public what an agency produces and what it gets for its money.
Product-based budgeting looks at the specific services an agency provides as products that can be measured as, for example, the quality, quantity and the cost per unit of a trip on an Access van, the issuance of a marriage license or building permit or the response to a 9-1-1 call.
During his presentation, Constantine said he wants all of King County government to move to product-based budgeting within three years.
State needs to help save roads and transit
But cost savings from finding efficiencies cannot save public transit or county roads, Constantine said.
Metro Transit, which depends in large part on declining sales tax revenue, has slashed its operating budget in recent years. But the County Council still had to pass the two-year Congestion Reduction Charge in August to prevent a 17 percent cut in service.
“Long-term reform of transit financing still resides with the state Legislature,” he said.
The county doesn’t have enough money to pay for keeping up its roads and bridges, including many in the Snoqualmie Valley. The county’s Road Services Division had to lay off 81 workers this year.
Constantine included triaging road maintenance work to save money in his 2012 budget proposal.
“The success of urban annexations has left only 250,000 residents of the unincorporated areas paying for 1,600 miles of county roads used by 2 million of us,” Constantine said. “It’s a system that hasn’t been revisited in 25 years, and it’s no longer adequate or fair.”
He called on the a statewide transportation task force convened by Gov. Chris Gregoire to “create a statewide solution for deteriorating roads in rural areas, as well for transit needs in urban areas.”
Deputy Executive Fred Jarrett represents King County on the task force.
Constantine said he expects the state, which is facing a projected $1.4 billion budget shortfall, will cut money for public health and human services in the county.
“We don’t know where these cuts may come, so I have not anticipated them in my budget. But we do know they could be devastating for our neediest residents,” he said.
His budget proposal also asks the County Council to approve a supplemental appropriation to fund an effort to persuade Boeing to build its overhauled 737 jet planes in King County.
The effort includes continued cleanup of the Duwamish River and contaminated properties that could, with redevelopment and reinvestment, support manufacturing and light industrial jobs.
King County Council plans to hold public hearings on the budget and is set to adopt a final budget Nov. 21.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or email@example.com. Comment at www.snovalleystar.com.