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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
Council member Jane Hague, R-Bellevue, said the 2001 budget
makes the county more efficient, while maintaining its current level of service
"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."