Northwest NEWS

November 27, 2000

Business

King County Council passes 2001 budget

On Nov. 21 the Metropolitan King County Council approved a 2001 budget that they say would provide the property tax relief of Initiative 722 while maintaining critical public safety, health and human services programs.
   However, King County Executive Ron Sims has said that he will veto the budget passed by the Council because it is $54 million out of balance.
   The Council says their budget reduces the amount of property taxes King County would collect in 2001 by nearly $10 million from the property tax increase proposed last month by County Executive Sims.
   The budget, approved by a vote of 8 to 5, meets Initiative 722's limit of a 2 percent increase over 1999 property tax collections. It sets total county spending at approximately $2.4 billion with a general fund budget of about $485 million.
   "This budget provides genuine property tax relief to homeowners," said Rob McKenna, the Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. "Today we proved tax relief can be achieved without the sky falling. Sheriff's deputies will continue responding to calls, health clinics continue to remain open, and those most in need will continue receiving a helping hand.
   "In fact, we restored over $5 million in human services and public health cuts the Executive had proposed."
   Councilmember Maggi Fimia said, "Our 2001 budget focuses the county on priorities by cutting overhead and funding direct services to the public. An amendment I sponsored sets this government on a new policy of identifying savings in our police, courts, jails, health and human service budgets and investing those savings in prevention programs.
   "About 67 percent of our general fund is spent on the end result of crime. We must invest in prevention, intervention and treatment to bring that cost under control."
   The Council spent the last five weeks reviewing the Executive's proposed budget. It heard from citizens, either in person at five public hearings on the budget or through their Web site.
  
   Highlights of the 2001 budget passed by the King County Council:
   Meets the property tax cut requirement of Initiative 722 by setting property tax collections at two percent above 1999 collections. It is not possible to estimate the amount of tax relief that provides the average homeowner. The assessor, to comply with the Initiative, must roll back properties to the 1999 assessment, then calculate a new tax rate.
   Rejects the human service cuts proposed by King County Executive Ron Sims. Programs in areas such as domestic violence, sexual assault, youth and family services, senior centers and the homeless will receive funding. The Community Health Clinics are fully funded. In addition, the Executive's $250,000 cut to arts and heritage programs is restored as is funding for the Pacific Science Center.
   Invests heavily in the law and justice agencies by full restoring the (I-695 cuts in the Sheriff's office, adding three new prosecutors for the felony drug unit and mandating 24-hour-a-day booking at the Regional Justice Center in Kent. The budget includes improvements to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System and continued efficient operations of the Superior and District courts, including operation of the law library at the Justice Center in Kent.
   Rejects the funding cuts proposed by the Executive to the WSU Cooperative Extension Service. This funding will allow continuation of such popular programs as 4-H and Master Gardener.
   Makes critical investments in the environment by adding $500.000 in new projects to the Natural Resources budget. Restores the cuts in areas such as fish and ditch, groundwater, Lake Stewardship and agriculture that were proposed by the Executive. Funds more than $19 million in parks, open space and conservation projects.
   Provides funding in 2001 of more than $53 million in roads projects, part of a six-year improvement program that totals over $435 million. This is the largest six-year construction plan in the County's history. The budget funds pedestrian safety improvements in older neighborhoods of unincorporated King County.
   Funded a number of capital improvements to the bus system, including improvements to the park and ride system. Additional resources are provided for Eastgate and Issaquah Highlands park and rides. The Council has delayed action on the bus fare increases proposed by the Executive.
   Achieves budget cuts while providing critical services by reducing the number of planners, holding a number of non-public safety vacancies open for six months, trimming soft costs such as travel, advertising and contract services and other non-essential services.