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County budget keeps services at current levels; DDES would move from Renton

King County Executive Dow Constantine Monday proposed a balanced budget for 2013 and 2014 that funds most county services at current levels, despite sharply limited growth in the economy, according to a county press release.

The budget plan also calls for moving the county's Renton-based Department of Development and Environmental Services to Snoqualmie. It would have a new name, the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review. The move would bring the agency closer to its rural customer base.

Constantine has set a reform agenda that has created $60 million of efficiencies and introduced Lean business practices.

“This is a budget that manages those things we have within our control, and accounts for events beyond our authority,” said Constantine in his budget address to the Metropolitan King County Council. “We balanced this budget not by raising taxes, not by cutting services, but by creating efficiencies and engaging in a philosophy and a methodology for continuous improvement.”

The proposed General Fund budget is $684 million, increase of 2.75 percent below inflation and 0.5 percent over last year’s equivalent budget of $680 million. A reform of business practice to more accurately include $25 million of debt service as an expense in the General Fund accounts for the change from the $655 General Fund figure adopted last year, according to a King County press release.

With the continued transition to a biennial, two-year budget for nearly all agencies except those in the General Fund and a few others, the total budget is a hybrid annual/biennial number of $7.6 billion. Annual spending in 2013 is expected to be about the same $4.4 Billion as in 2012.

EFFICIENCIES

Rather than saving money by reducing service, the Constantine's reform agenda calls for saving service by reducing cost – providing the same level of service with 3 percent less growth in costs. The total biennial budget includes $60 million in efficiencies:

• $8 million in operational efficiencies,

• $14 million in health care savings, and

• $38 million in cost avoidance.

Of that $60 million, $11 million of the efficiencies are in the General Fund. Among the dozens of efficiencies in this budget are:

• $700,000 saved by consolidating computer servers from across all agencies into the King County Data Center in Tukwila.

• $385,000 saved by not buying 1,400 desktop computers that agencies decided they could do without.

• $406,000 saved by standardizing the layout of Public Health clinics in White Center, Kent, and Renton so they use space more efficiently and enable better service at lower cost.

• $76,000 by standardizing equipment at sewer plants so fewer brands of spare parts are needed, and $66,000 by better estimating the amount of industrial bleach it takes to disinfect wastewater.

LEAN

In partnership with Boeing and Group Health, Constantine established a Continuous Improvement team that is three months into its work. Early results of Lean pilots include:

• The Sheriff’s Office – from patrol officers to command staff – cut its use of overtime by $500,000 by using zone-policing to deploy deputies more efficiently. With those savings the sheriff is able to fill vacancies and put more deputies on the street.

• The Elections Office condensed 10 paper forms for ballot processing into one electronic database, and reconfigured building space and workstations for a more efficient workflow, just in time for the presidential election.

• Appraisers in the Assessor’s Office now use iPads to enter their data in the field and automatically match property photos with the correct parcel file, improving accuracy and saving 8,500 hours a year.

HUMAN SERVICES

This budget provides $73 million in locally-generated operating funds for human services – for housing, treatment, employment and veterans services, and to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

TRANSPORTATION

The system for funding county roads across the state hasn’t been revisited in 25 years and no longer works, according to the county press release. Metro Transit has temporary funding authority that expires in mid-2014. King County is now seeing the consequences of legislative inaction earlier this year on sustainable funding for transit and roads, according to the county press release.

The county Road Fund is supported mostly by the local property tax, through a separate Roads levy capped at $2.25 per thousand dollars of assessed value. Over the past four years, a combination of economic factors has led to a 20 percent decline in the Road Fund, from $122 million in 2010 to $98 million in 2013:

The average homeowner will pay roughly $90 less in 2013 for road services than in 2009, due to a 44 percent drop in the value of property assessments in unincorporated King County, a value that includes the losses from annexations.

The county has not seen a proportional drop in its responsibility for repairing, maintaining, and replacing 1,500 miles of roads, bridges, and culverts, according to the county. Roads in the county’s rural area are some of the oldest in the system, and are the most vulnerable to winds, floods and snow storms, running as they do alongside rivers and streams, through heavily wooded areas and at higher elevations.

Without state action on local transportation funding earlier this year, the consequence to the King County budget is the proposed reduction of about 60 essential roads workers in early 2013. If no state action is taken in the next legislative session, another 21 additional positions are proposed for reduction in mid-2013, and at least 30 more in 2014.

If all the cuts are absorbed, the King County Roads Services Division will have eliminated about 226 positions since 2009, or 38 percent of its entire workforce.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The commitment to justice and safety in this budget remains at 73 percent of the General Fund, when the 2012 General Fund is adjusted to account for debt service as described above. This budget expands the Prosecutor’s “Program 180” pilot to provide services and mentors to help juvenile offenders stay out of the system. The budget continues on an ongoing basis several gang prevention programs, funded on a one-time basis last year from the criminal justice reserve, that are proving successful.

ADULT DETENTION

As previously reported, the reduction by the state of Washington in its use of local jail beds will mean fewer inmates in county jails and will contribute $9.4 million to an overall $13 million drop in revenues that support King County jail operations. The loss of revenues requires the reduction of 46 positions at the jail in the proposed budget. Constantine is working with the King County Corrections Guild and other labor representatives to meet the shared goal of achieving personnel reductions without layoffs while balancing the budget and preserving safety.

PUBLIC HEALTH

Under federal health-care reform more funding is expected to be available for Public Health in 2014, so bridge funding is budgeted for one more year for key prevention services that tackle the leading causes of premature death – tobacco prevention and obesity prevention.

ENVIRONMENT

This budget continues to preserve recreation and open space, with funds included for realizing the long-held vision of permanent public ownership for the former BNSF Eastside Rail Corridor.

PUBLIC MEETINGS

The King County Council’s Budget Leadership Team will host three evening hearings to hear from the public on Constantine's budget proposal. Council approval of the budget is typically done in November.

The hearings are:

Wednesday, Oct. 3- Maleng Regional Justice Center, Courtroom 3F, 401 Fourth Avenue N., Kent

Wednesday, Oct. 10 – Bellevue City Hall, City Council Chambers , 450 110th Ave. N.E., Bellevue

Wednesday, Oct. 17 – King County Courthouse, County Council Chambers, 10th floor, 516 Third Avenue, Seattle

All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. Day-after coverage of the public hearings will be available both online and on King County TV, seen on Comcast and Broadstripe Cable Channel 22.

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