While 2020 was primarily focused on a response to the pandemic, King County is dedicated to economic recovery and vaccine distribution in 2021, according to King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci.
Balducci provided a look back on the year behind and the year ahead during the Woodinville City Council meeting on Tuesday, March 16. She highlighted several key investments to curb the impact of COVID-19, and additional funding for transit, racial justice, criminal reform, public health, housing and much more.
“We adopted eight budgets last year,” Balducci said. “We had five COVID-related budgets, two supplemental budgets, and then our biennial budget.”
She said these budgets mostly include resources for COVID-19 response testing, contact tracing, de-intensification shelters, quarantine isolation, recovery sites, among other things. The county council adopted the $12.6 billion biennial budget for 2021-2022 in November of last year. A majority of the funds go toward fixed costs for regional utilities, wastewater systems, solid waste and more, she said.
Continuing into 2021, the county is also taking action to allocate leftover Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements to support recovery and economic relief efforts.
The county is currently partnering with a number of mass vaccination sites and mobile approaches to reach people who otherwise might not be able to access a clinic, Balducci noted. She said most vaccines are going out to hospitals, private clinics and now increasingly to drugstores. The goal is to vaccinate as many as 16,000 people every day and soon more, she added.
“King County has a key role in the healthcare system, but we are not the whole healthcare system,” she said. “We still don't really have a very reliable and high enough flow of vaccines, although that is changing and we anticipate it to get easier all the time.”
Balducci said the county was able to put a few million dollars into supporting childcare for essential workers last year. According to her, the sector of childcare is lacking and needs additional funding for the creation of new facilities.
“There was a childcare crisis, arguably, before COVID,” she said. “And it's gotten worse.”
She said the county’s Best Starts for Kids Levy, which first passed in 2015, is up for renewal in August. The new levy would total 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in property taxes — an increase of five cents. She described the measure as a “prevention levy” to keep youth from becoming homeless by investing early in their lives.
A number of shelters have opened around the county to support people in congregate settings during the pandemic. Balducci said better ventilation and adequate space was needed to keep the infections down.
Adopted last September, the Health Through Housing initiative uses revenue from sales tax to help those experiencing homelessness. Due to this measure, the county has been able develop a network of apartment-like shelters from hotels and distressed properties that are not functioning because of the pandemic.
Balducci said the goal is to move about 1,600 residents experiencing chronic homelessness off the streets by October 2022. She is unaware of any movement in Woodinville to do this, she noted.
Affordable housing is on everyone’s mind. The high price of market rate housing is driving people to live further and further from expensive communities, Balducci noted. She said a committee of the Growth Management Planning Council also plans to build or preserve 44,000 units for those at 50% area median income or below by 2024.
According to Balducci, transportation is one of the top topics and needs for communities to be successful. In the wake of the pandemic, she noted, there is a lot of work to do to rebuild the transit system.
“We, of course, continued providing transit services throughout the pandemic, although at a much-reduced level,” she said. “We saw our ridership, especially during peak hours, drop significantly.”
With all the streams in and around King County, some of the sustainability funds were used to try and save the Kokanee salmon, a little red fish that is very close to extinction. Balducci said the county is currently in the midst of extreme intervention measures to keep the fish alive genetically and protect their habitat.
The county also funded work on a climate action toolkit, which is now complete and adopted, according to Balducci. She said the tool is meant to help jurisdictions identify greenhouse gas contributors based on land use and transportation patterns, and then point to the best strategies to reduce those emissions.
In light of the protests and rallies last summer, King County has taken a few actions to address concerns around policing and incarceration. Balducci said the county funded two diversion programs for juveniles and adults to receive community-based support instead of the court system. Neither program has officially been launched, although thousands of people are expended to utilize the programs soon.