County Council adopts budget

SEATTLE _ Eight hours after they first came together, members of

the Metropolitan King County Council approved by a vote of 8-5 a 2001

budget that limits property taxes to the provisions set forth by the recent

passage of Initiative 722.

The council's budget of about $2.4 billion is nearly $10 million less

than what had been proposed by King County Executive Ron Sims.

Under his budget, Sims had cut funding to county human services, arts and

heritage programs, 4-H and Master Gardeners, while maintaining

current staffing levels and calling for a 2.61 percent property tax increase,

six-tenths of a percent higher than the 2 percent called for in I-722. Sims

said the 2.61 percent increase matched inflation.

The County Council's budget, which won Budget and Fiscal

Management Committee approval Nov. 18, places a six-month freeze on

filling existing vacancies within county departments and maintains funding

to human services, arts and heritage programs and the 4-H and the

Master Gardener programs. At the same time, it adheres to the 2 percent limit

on taxes and fees contained within I-722. It also calls for new taxes to be

based on 1999 collections.

"The budget provides genuine property tax relief to

homeowners," said Councilman Rob McKenna, R-Bellevue in a statement. "Today

we proved tax relief can be achieved without the sky falling. Sheriff's

deputies will continue responding to calls, health clinics will 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."

Approval of the budget, however, wasn't swift. Soon after the

County Council meeting began at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Chairman Pete

von Reichbauer, R-Federal Way, called for a recess. Council members spent

much of the rest of the afternoon meeting in groups before adopting the

budget later that night.

Sims is expected to veto the council's budget. Democrat

Maggi Fimia, of Shoreline, joined the seven Republican members of the council

in passing the budget, but nine votes are needed to override a veto.

According to Sims's office, McKenna and others are wrong

about the number of vacancies in county agencies, but McKenna said he

used numbers provided by the executive in a report. The Republicans believe

they will be able to save $4.6 million on 619 vacancies, while Sims counts

92.5 vacancies.

Council member Jane Hague, R-Bellevue, said the 2001 budget

makes the county more efficient, while maintaining its current level of service

to residents.

"This budget puts the priority on service, not bureaucracy," she said

in a statement. "We can do more with less, and we can provide better

service by working more efficiently and effectively."

Fimia, the lone Democrat to sign off on the budget, said as the

council tries to make government more efficient it would invest money saved

into prevention programs.

"Our 2001 budget focuses the county on priorities by cutting

overhead and funding direct services to the public," she said in a statement.

"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."

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