I was dismayed when reading how King County Executive Ron Sims outlined cuts to the 2009 county budget highlighting the need to trim $65 million dollars. Cuts were primarily across the board rather than selectively looking at specific programs and departments. The biggest concern is cuts to public safety, with the possibility of 100 deputies being cut to reduce costs at the King County Sheriff’s office.
Sims touts that the county has cut the easy stuff, citing the budget deficit gap reductions done between 2002 and 2005 that attempted to shave $137 million from the county budget. He went on to cite that income hasn’t kept up with inflation with regards to county funding, and wants the legislature to come up with a plan to help the county fund needed programs.
So is this a new revelation that our executive is just now figuring out, while the rest of us have known it for the past year? Our personal budgets are strained, and our personal income hasn’t kept up with inflation, either. We are personally cutting things out that aren’t necessary to stretch our wages to cover cost increases associated with fuel, groceries and housing.
County government is needed to provide basic services to the rural areas. Shrinking rural areas, due to annexations, should shrink county government. If this were 10 years ago, prior to Initiative 695, our county executive would be proposing a 5.5 percent property tax increase and disregarding spending limits initiated through referendum 47, approved by voters in 1997.
Cuts should be based on priorities established by the entire county council. Public safety cuts and court cuts should be at the top of the priority list with very little impact to their budgets. Cuts in other departments should carry the bulk of the cost reductions in the form of staff reductions, program reductions, etc. Reducing the size of county government shows real progress in addressing budget deficits.
At some point, the state may have to step in and provide some means for counties to address funding shortfalls, but I would hope that our state legislature and governor send a clear warning that prioritized cuts at the county level need to be initiated before they assist with funding alternatives. King County staffing has grown from 13,051 full time equivalents just five years ago to 13,998 today.
The bottom line is this: We expect public safety; it’s a necessity. Reduce funding to other non-essential programs and raise rates for subsidized programs to reduce the overall budget. If necessary, speed up or assist in the annexation process to reduce costs at the county level, but do it without placing unreasonable restrictions on property, such as the current transfer of development rights process.