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Sims vetoes; Si View treads water
SEATTLE _ Every budget, no matter how large or small, boils
down to a series of numbers, commas and decimals. What the final tally
means, however, depends on who you talk to.
For Executive Ron Sims, the year 2001 budget passed Nov. 20 by
the Metropolitan King County Council adds up to the number "54," as in
$54 million out of balance.
For Councilman Rob McKenna, whose Budget and Fiscal
Management Committee crafted the county's approximately $2.45 billion
spending plan, the numbers, when added, equal "722," as in the voter-approved
Now Sims and the County Council are left to reconcile the two.
And the fate of the Si View Pool and Community Center in North Bend
may hang in the balance.
On Nov. 30, after days of threatening to do so, Sims vetoed the
2001 budget ordinance that had been passed by council members. The
executive said the council's budget was out of balance by $54 million, and he
said mistakes were made in the property tax levy and the emergency
medical services property tax levy.
"The council wanted to buy $54 million more than what we could
afford," he said last Thursday. He added that county administrators, the
King County Bar Association, the mayors of Seattle, Bellevue and Renton
and county residents called for him to veto the budget.
"It's simply time to start over again," Sims said. "Things have
got to add up. Things have got to zero out."
The veto was the defining moment in an often-heated process that
started in October when Sims submitted his proposed 2001 budget to the
County Council. In it, Sims called for a property tax levy of 2.61 percent.
Council members took his budget under consideration, then passed
their own version Nov. 20 by an 8-5 vote, with one Democratic council
member joining seven other Republicans in approving it. The council's budget
followed the 2 percent property tax limit set by I-722 generating $10
million less than Sims's budget as well as rolling back fees and taxes to
1999 levels, which was also contained in the initiative.
Sims's veto sent the budget back to the County Council, which did
not have the nine votes needed for an override. Promptly after the
veto, McKenna said he would reintroduce Sims's budget to the council, and
he scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 15.
McKenna called the veto an "unfortunate step," and said he
believes Sims struck down the budget because it followed I-722.
"He did it because this council refused to adopt his budget,"
said McKenna, R-District 6. "He's really upset that the council refused to
increase property taxes by $10 million."
According to the county executive, there are several problems with
the County Council's budget. It failed to include an ordinance authorizing a
0.2 percent sales tax increase to fund Metro transit services creating
a shortfall of $34 million in the Metro budget and did not contain
several fees ordinances.
Sims also said the council members used the wrong vacancy
numbers when calculating staffing levels. In order to meet the requirements of
I-722, the council placed a six-month freeze on filling vacancies
within county departments. In a Nov. 30 letter to council Chairman Pete
von Reichbauer, R-District 7, Sims said many of those vacancies don't
exist, and a staffing freeze would cut 87 positions "that are filled with
"We were very clear that these [vacancies] had 87 people in them,
and the budget shouldn't be balanced on their backs," he said last Thursday.
Republican council members have said that Sims's staff did not
provide the council with the correct number of vacancies before it adopted
the 2001 budget.
If the council's budget was implemented, Sims said his office would
be forced to reduce funding to county departments, including the
King County Park System. Part of those cuts would come from closing the Si
View Pool and Community Center in North Bend, as well as the Preston
Community Center, the Gracie Hansen Community Center in Ravensdale and
the Gold Creek Lodge in Woodinville. Park System spokesman Al Dams
said closing the Si View Pool and the Community Center would result in a
net savings of $186,689.
In a letter to the Valley Record, Sims wrote: "The budget adopted
by the King County Council cut $1.4 million from the Park System and
included another $500,000 in unfunded mandates. These cuts would
require the Park System to close Si View Pool and Community Center, along
with Preston Community Center, Gold Creek Lodge and Gracie
Hansen Community Center."
He added that the council's budget would also eliminate the
beach lifeguard program, as well as several playground and
It's unclear who first proposed closing the facilities in North
Bend. McKenna and Councilman David Irons, R-District 12, who
represents the Valley, said funding for the Si
View Pool and Community Center was not included in Sims's budget when it
was brought before the County Council, with Irons saying it was "slated to
"It has always been on the chopping block, as far as the
executive's budget is concerned," he said,
adding that when the council created its version of the budget, he sought to
increase funding to the Park System to keep the facilities open.
Dams, however, said the facilities had been included.
"The closing of Si View was not in the executive's proposed
budget," he said, adding later, "Since it's
not mentioned as a cut, it's kept status quo."
Sims, in his letter to the Valley Record, said the possible closing
of the pool and community center was a "major reason why I vetoed
the council's budget."
At the Si View Pool and Community Center, 400 S.E. Orchard
Drive, a sign hangs on a door that asks residents to contact their council
representative and Sims's office to urge them to keep the facilities open.
Carl Blomberg did just that, sending e-mails to Sims and Irons.
The resident of Carnation figures he logged his 116th mile at the Si View Pool
last week, and he's not pleased with talk of closing the facility, as are
others who use it.
"They're very unhappy about it," he said of other patrons. "Look at
the kids. They don't even know what's going on."
North Bend Mayor Joan Simpson said county officials have
repeatedly talked of closing the Si View Pool and Community Center, with the
county even offering to sell the facilities to North Bend in the mid-1990s.
That proposal failed, she said, because the city pointed out that 80 percent of
the patrons came from unincorporated King County.
"I think it's more than quality of life," she said of the benefits the
facilities provide local residents, "it's a health and safety issue. Our people
are living near water; our people need to learn how to swim."
While Republicans and Democrats have blamed each other for the
impasse over the 2001 budget, following Sims's veto, both sides said
they are willing to reach a compromise.
"Now we hopefully kind of drop the sniping and start
working collaboratively and finish the
budget," Irons said.
He hopes a new budget will be completed by Christmas, and he
thinks the Si View Pool and Community Center can be saved.
"I do not see that there's going to be any impetus, except from
the executive's office, to close that facility," he said.
Another question to be resolved is whether the budget will follow
property tax limits set by I-722. On Nov. 30, the day of Sims's veto, a
Superior Court judge in Thurston County granted an injunction for cities
and counties that sued to stop the implementation of the initiative,
which would have become law Dec. 7.
In her ruling, Judge Christine Pomeroy said the injunction only
applied to those citie