Northwest NEWS

November 29, 1999

Local News

County Council wants to protect bus service

   SEATTLE--The King County Council's transportation panel wants the County to exercise caution in slashing Metro Transit's budget, a move which would result in lost jobs, elimination of many bus lines, and reduced service on virtually every other line as a result of Initiative 695.

   At a Nov. 12 meeting, transportation panel members voted to postpone some of the most drastic cuts to Metro's 2000 budget until a more comprehensive financial picture is determined by the state Dept. of Licensing and the state Attorney General. The panel did say that maintaining the present level of service will produce cost savings compared to the proposed 2000 budget.

   "The public expects an informed and deliberative approach to implementing I-695," said Councilmember Rob McKenna, co-chair of the Moving King County 2000 budget panel. "We must have more information before we make a final decision on major cuts to public transportation."

   McKenna said delaying drastic action, even for a week, could avoid making service and personnel cuts that may need to be reversed later. He directed the county's Dept. of Transportation to request a preliminary opinion from the state concerning budget reconciliation that could clarify the issue.

   Meanwhile, the panel trimmed a significant amount of administrative overhead from the County Executive's proposed 2000 budget, including cutting $3 million from the administrative portion of the transit operating budget, and restoring critical road and sidewalk construction projects planned through 2003.

   Eastside projects included: work on Juanita-Woodinville Way; widening Woodinville-Duvall Rd., Avondale Rd. and the intersection of the two; and Novelty Hill Rd. improvements.

   The panel also trimmed $1 million from the roads administration budget by: eliminating new programs and not hiring four new employees, as planned; deferring the decision to purchase 75 wheelchair-accessible taxis or minivans for use by local cab companies, until exploring other options; rejecting a proposed fare increase for the disabled and frail elderly until next year; simplifying bus fares by limiting two-zone trip fares to peak hours, making a flat fee fare for 18 hours a day, regardless of zones.

   "A recent transit audit found that our King County Metro system is one of the best in the country for the amount of service and cost of that service," said Councilmember Maggi Fimia, panel co-chair. "If we have to incur these cuts, we should focus remaining dollars on safety, maintenance, and service of the existing core bus system."

   The panel also had to find $10.5 million in cuts from the public health budget, as a result of I-695. Part of this enabled them to fund the hiring of 30 police officer positions, which the executive's proposal would have cut. However, several other sheriff's department programs were cut or reduced, including the marine unit and the Guardian One helicopter.

   The cuts restored $410,000 to the county's food inspection program, but removed $162,233 from the county's law library in Kent, which will cause the library to close sometime next year.