MAY 5, 1997
King County Executive Ron Sims speaks to a Woodinville audience.
Photo courtesy of King County Executive Office.
by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter
King County Executive Ron Sims came to Woodinville High School last Thursday night to discuss the county budget process. He said that county government had been stuck too long on "3rd and James." Sims, asking for ideas, brought an interactive budget model with him which allowed audience members to participate in creating a county budget.
A crowd of more than thirty local residents, community activists, and city officials passed up a Seattle Supersonics playoff game to experience "Let's Build the County Budget," an innovative game that shows taxpayers how certain programs have to be funded and others are closer to the chopping block.
After Sims, King County Councilwoman Louise Miller and Pat Steel, Director of Budget and Strategic Planning, explained how the real budget process for King County works. 25 audience members were given $8 apiece to spend on preselected mandatory and new program expenses for mythical Crown County. The catch: there was $225 worth of programs in the budget.
As citizens mulled over their money, they needed to spend at least half of their $8 on mandatory programs such as adult jails, juvenile jails, superior court interpreters, a new county assessor, a women and minority business compliance officer, and voting by mail. As Sims explained, in real life, mandatory programs are required expenditures. In the game, mandatory programs required expenditures of $165.
Players could spend their other $4 on new programs, such as a police storefront in unincorporated Crown County, expanding school-to-work programs, and saving salmon. They could also spend their money on programs proposed to be cut, including rural preservation, community swimming pools, and historical preservation.
The game has been taken to communities as varied as Seattle and Enumclaw with widely different results, according to Kevin Martinez, deputy director of King County Community and Government Affairs. "Preserving farmlands is not a big deal in Seattle, but it's big in Enumclaw," he said.
Woodinville residents mingled and mulled over their decisions. Mayor Bob Miller put his money into jails and a police storefront. Gladys Berry, member of the Woodinville Historical Society, exhorted players to contribute to historical preservation. She succeeded. By the end of the round, $17 had been set aside for historical preservation, and another $14 was docked for rural preservation. Unfortunately, mandatory programs were woefully short of necessary funding. And a taxpayer foundation took $10 from the pot.
Martinez said the program had given players a better perspective of how difficult the budget process is, albeit on a very small scale. "There's never enough money," he said.
Dollars were scalloped from non-mandatory programs to pay for the under-budgeted mandatory programs. The police storefront was axed to pay for superior court interpreters. Rural preservation and historical preservation programs were combined and the savings put towards interpreters, as well. The swimming pool was closed and funds transferred to juvenile detention. But in the end, the budget was balanced with small amounts going to new and on-the-edge programs.
Afterwards, Sims asked the audience what they would like to see in the upcoming 1998 budget. Mentioned were more programs for special and handicapped children, sports fields, and the need for a local community service center.
Sims said afterwards that the workshop (which will reach eight cities) had been well received and that feedback had been "thoroughly meaningful." He said the public was taking away a better glimpse of county government and the budget process.
"They see what we would like to do and what we are required to do," Sims said. "People have a lot more in common in what they want at King County government to be," he concluded, adding that he will be returning to Woodinville in several weeks to speak with the Mayor and City Council.