Sims states he’ll veto county budget

SEATTLE _ Two days after the Metropolitan King County
Council passed a $2.45 billion budget for 2001, County Executive Ron Sims said
he would veto the measure and wants to call council members back to
"finish the job."

SEATTLE _ Two days after the Metropolitan King County

Council passed a $2.45 billion budget for 2001, County Executive Ron Sims said

he would veto the measure and wants to call council members back to

“finish the job.”

“This is a government of the people, and it is for the people of

King County that I will veto the budget,” he said in a statement. “This

budget spends money without appropriate revenues and adopts new

programs without funding. In essence, they [the County Council] spent money

that doesn’t exist.”

Sims said the council’s budget, which was adopted by an 8-5

vote Nov. 20, is $54 million out of balance and fails to fund a voter-approved

0.2 percent sales tax increase to fund transit service. He has 10 days from

the council’s vote to veto the budget.

Following that announcement, a week of political finger-pointing

ensued. Councilman Chris Vance, R-District 13, called Sims’s statements

about transit funding “misleading and hyper-partisan,” and Councilman and

Budget Committee Chairman Rob McKenna, R-District 6, said

the county executive “is having a fit.”

According to Sims, when council members approved the budget,

they failed to enact several fee ordinances but still provided funding to those

services. He said the transit budget would experience a shortfall of $34

million and does not include the 0.2 percent sales tax increase voters

approved Nov. 7 to fund county transit service.

Sims also said the council’s budget would affect public safety by

reducing criminal-justice funding by $2.5 million, the bulk of which

would come from cutting 73 vacant positions in the Prosecutor’s Office,

Superior Court, judicial administration and adult and juvenile detention.

Sims’s spokeswoman, Elaine Kraft, said by law, the council

must create a balanced budget.

“The council … did not pass the revenues, but it went ahead and

spent the money,” she said.

In order to balance the budget, Sims said, several cuts would

be needed in county departments, with the King County Park System

standing to lose 11 full-time positions and 150 part-time employees. He also

said the council’s budget would “force closure” of the Si View Pool and

Community Center in North Bend, the Preston Community Center, the

Gold Creek Lodge in Woodinville and the Gracie Hansen Community Center

in Ravensdale.

It would also eliminate all lifeguards at beaches and all

after-school, family and environmental programs offered by the Park System.

Those potential closures have Councilman David Irons, who

represents the Valley, crying foul. He said he and another council

member, Louise Miller, R-District 3, are being unfairly targeted by the proposed cuts.

“He [Sims] has decided to focus on two council members to try

and corrupt their votes, and that is myself and Louise Miller,” said Irons,

R-District 12.

The councilman said closing the Si View Pool and Community

Center would be a “very, very small

savings,” and he questioned why the

executive’s office had focused on it instead of a facility like the Mercer Island

Pool, where, he said, less than 1 percent of the patrons are made up of

residents from unincorporated King County.

Al Dams, spokesman for the King County Park System, said his

department was not “playing politics”

when it proposed closing the Si View Pool and Community Center, and it is

not directing cuts toward any specific district.

“If you look at the cuts that are proposed to Parks, they are spread

out over every council district,” he said. “We don’t want to do this, but if

our revenue is reduced by a certain amount, we have to make a

certain amount of cuts.”

Dams added that closing the pool and community center in North

Bend would result in a net gain of $186,689.

As for the Mercer Island Pool, Dams said the King County Park

System is obligated to keep it open because it was one of several pools

built with revenues from the “Forward Thrust” bond measure passed by

voters in 1967, which required that the pools remain open for 40 years.

Sims’s office contends the cuts wouldn’t be needed if the

County Council had passed a balanced budget, including the necessary fee

ordinances. But Irons said the council wanted to wait and see what

happens to Initiative 722, which became law after the November general

election, before enacting new fee ordinances. The new initiative rolls back tax

and fee increases to 1999 levels and limits property tax increases to 2

percent annually.

“We don’t have to take action at this point in time,” Irons said of

the fee ordinances.

After I-722 was approved by voters, several cities, including

Seattle and Carnation, sued to stop its implementation, calling it

unconstitutional. Irons believes an injunction will

be granted against I-722, which would likely last until the state

Supreme Court decides whether to uphold the initiative or strike it down.

If I-722 is ruled unconstitutional, the current fee ordinances for

such things as the rural drainage program, the roads mitigation payment

system rate ordinance and the wastewater treatment division sewer rate will

remain in place, Irons said. But if it is upheld, the council would move

to enact the new fee ordinances.

Both sides in the budget debate do agree on one thing: The process

has not been a cooperative one. Through a series of press releases faxed to

media outlets, Sims and council Republicans blame each other.

“There was none of the cooperative spirit this year,” Kraft said.

In response to Sims’s statements over transit funding, Vance said

the county executive did not provide an ordinance to enact the 0.2

percent sales tax increase until Nov. 20, the day the council adopted the budget.

“How could we have passed an ordinance we didn’t have?”

Vance asked in a statement. Sims countered in a statement of his own that the

Budget and Fiscal Management Committee had the ordinance by Nov. 13.

Another bone of contention is the number of unfilled positions

within county departments. In order to create a budget that followed the

limits set by I-722, the County Council placed a six-month freeze on

filling 619 vacancies, which it said would save $4.6 million. Sims’s staff

members say less than 100 vacancies exist.

In a statement of his own, McKenna, the Budget

Committee chair, said Sims’s staff was asked repeatedly for more than a month to

provide the correct number of vacancies, which it failed to do.

“This points to a sad truth. The executive can’t tell you how

many people work for King County, and he is supposed to be managing

county government,” McKenna said.

Irons said the county executive was asked repeatedly to provide

accurate vacancy numbers, but he didn’t, so the council had to use numbers

it knew were probably wrong.

“If he won’t give us the new numbers, how can we possibly be

accurate?” he said.

Irons believes the main difference between Sims and Republicans on

the County Council lies with I-722 itself. In his budget, Sims proposed a

2.61 percent property tax increase, six-tenths of a percent more than the

2 percent outlined in I-722.

Kraft said her boss is not against the 2 percent increase, but “he’d

like to do it at the 2000 levels” and see how much complying with I-722 affects

the county.

Irons said the council thought it had enough flexibility in the

budget to work in the I-722 limits, although it wasn’t an easy decision.

“We had a natural disagreement with members of the council

about should we abide by 722,” he said, adding that the initiative’s impact

doesn’t pose a severe threat to county funding.

“We’re not talking about that much money in the scheme of how large

our budget is,” he said.

Once Sims vetoes the budget, which is expected to happen later

this week