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

Initiative 722.

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

real people."

"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

environmental-education programs.

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

be closed."

"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

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