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Budget passes; centers saved

SEATTLE — Banding together across party lines, the

Metropolitan King County Council last Friday unanimously approved a $2.45

billion budget for 2001, saving the Si View Pool and Community Center and

the Preston Community Center from having to close their doors.

It was the second time in the past month that the County

Council adopted a spending plan for next year. Ten days after the first budget

ordinance was passed on Nov. 20, King County Executive Ron Sims

vetoed the measure, saying it was $54 million out of balance and would

force the closure of four county-run community centers, including those

in Preston and North Bend.

Some Republicans, including Rob McKenna, R-District 6, charged

that in vetoing the budget, Sims simply didn't want to comply with the

limits set by Initiative 722, which caps property tax increases at 2 percent,

based on 1999 valuations. McKenna is chairman of the council's Budget and

Fiscal Management Committee, whose members created the

previously adopted 2001 budget that followed I-722. Sims had submitted a

proposed budget in October that called for a property tax increase of 2.61 percent.

Since Sims's veto, Republicans and Democrats on the council and

representatives with the executive's office worked to forge a compromise.

Councilman Greg Nickels, D-District 8, said the result has the blessing of

both political parties.

"We've worked very hard to put together a budget that had broad

support among the council," he said.

The budget includes what council members are calling the

lowest property tax increase in county history. While the previous budget

ordinance followed I-722, whose fate will ultimately be decided by the state

Supreme Court, the new version increases property taxes by only 1.5

percent, but bases the increases on year 2000 valuations. It also boosts the

general fund budget by more than $6 million over the previously adopted

budget.

McKenna said that while the new budget doesn't strictly follow

I-722, it does follow the initiative's spirit.

"This is about whether we're listening to the voters," he said.

"The voters weren't being subtle when they said they want property tax relief."

Councilman David Irons, R-District 12, who represents much of

the Valley, called the 1.5 percent property tax increase a "reasonable

compromise."

"This is the first time in modern history that we have kept the

budget below the cost of living [increase]," he said.

Before council members voted on the 2001 budget, they approved

several amendments to be included in the ordinance, including one from

Irons that called on Sims to keep the Si View Pool and Community Center and

the Preston Community Center open next year. Irons's amendment was

approved by all 13 members of the council.

The amendment added language to the portion of the 2001 budget

devoted to the King County Park System, stating: "… Sufficient appropriations

shall be expended on the Preston Community Center and the Si View Pool

and Community Center to keep these facilities open and operating at or

above the year 2000 level of operation."

Sims had previously said that the first budget adopted by the

County Council cut $1.4 million from the Park Systems budget and included

another $500,000 in unfunded mandates, which resulted in the need to close

four community centers and several Park System programs. In the new

budget, the amount of money allocated to the Park System increased from

$24.5 million to $25.9 million.

Irons said that in sponsoring the amendment, he wanted to ensure

both facilities remained open next year.

"I wanted this ironclad," he said.

Elaine Kraft, spokeswoman for Sims, said the county executive

agreed with the amendment.

"That part's great," she said.

"We don't like to have to curtail any county services if we can help it."

Kraft credited council members Nickels, Vice Chair Louise Miller,

R-District 3, and Chairman Pete von Reichbauer, R-District 7, for

helping to make a "pragmatic, reasonable budget," adding that Sims will likely

sign the ordinance within the next week.

McKenna said he was glad all sides were able to come together

to make budget everyone could live with.

"I think what we've got here is a good bipartisan effort," he said.

More bipartisan efforts may be needed for the 2002 budget.

McKenna said county officials are forecasting a shortfall of more than $20 million

in 2002, increasing to more than $40 million the following year.

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