This afternoon the King County Council approved a $12.59 billion budget for the next two years, adding a few changes to the proposal King County Executive Dow Constantine handed over in September.
Over the last several months the council has been busy approving several other supplemental budgets, wherein they reallocated $263 million from federal CARES Act money to pay for pandemic relief across the county, including funding for mask distribution, rental assistance, food banks, etc. But this budget is the big boy that covers the baseline stuff.
According to county staff, lower projected sales tax revenue and "property-tax-related" revenue created budget holes the county couldn't fill with federal funds, and so they ended up needing to cut funding to most agencies and departments to the tune of 5% in 2021 and another 5% in 2022. All told, the council slashed this biennium's budget by 6.7% compared to 2019-2020, cut over 300 jobs, and froze county wages for next year.
There is a lot of stuff in there, so let's tick off some highlights:
• First of all, happy holidays to some of you. After an awful lot of discussion on the issue, the council voted to make Indigenous Peoples' Day and Juneteenth paid holidays for King County employees, subject to bargaining, which will cost $4.3 million per year. The liberal councilmembers who supported the measures argued the holidays would help repair past injustices and encourage the county as a whole to reflect on our relationship to the legacies of slavery and colonialism, while the conservatives who opposed the measures argued that spending money on holidays in the middle of a pandemic didn't make much sense.
• The budget also included a 0.1% sales tax, which the county plans to bond against to raise $340 million for hotels and motels to house "up to" 2,000 people who've been living on the streets for over a year. The 2020 Point-in-Time count showed about 3,355 people who fit that description in King County. Constantine originally wanted to raise more, but some small cities decided to keep their portion of the tax to spend on their own projects and to leverage in future negotiations with the county, which is.....frustrating.
• All the stuff Councilmember Girmay Zahilay liked in Constantine's proposal stayed in there, including moving $4.6 million in marijuana tax revenue from law enforcement to community-based programs in King County, the $10 million in seed money for a Skyway Community Center, the $10 million for "new capital projects" in unincorporated areas. Zahilay also added an amendment that directs the executive to spend $5 million on affordable housing specifically in Skyway, which, when it happens, will be the first time the county has directed money specifically for affordable housing in the Blackest neighborhood in the state as far as Zahilay's office knows.
• Zahilay also added a bunch of provisos. One directs the executive to report on the amount of money the county spends on locking up kids, and to draw up a financial roadmap for divesting from those efforts and investing in alternatives as the county attempts to meet its goal of zero youth detention by 2025. Another requires the executive's office to report on alternatives to stationing cops in schools. Yet another asks for a report on what policing and fare enforcement on transit actually looks like, and requires Metro to create a plan for phasing out its contract with the Sheriff's Office. And finally, he also included a proviso that will sort out whether the 28 miles of broadband infrastructure running beneath the Eastrail might serve as the seed for universal broadband countywide.
• The council also approved $400,000 for the North Sound Response Awareness De-escalation and Referral program, which is designed for cops to share information "about community members who may be at increased risk of violence or use of force" and to send "Mental Health Professional Navigators" out with cops to offer resources to people in crisis.
• The council added $2 million more than Constantine to the Sheriff's Office's budget, including four new employees to help monitor people wearing ankle bracelets 24/7. At the behest of the county's presiding District and Superior Court judges, and with enthusiastic support from Councilmember Kathy Lambert, they also passed two amendments that collectively added $175,000 for emphasis patrols in front of the King County Courthouse's 3rd Ave entrance. Councilmember Rod Dembowski said that block was "dangerous," and since the Courts compel jurors and defendants to show up "we have a duty to step up with a little bit of enhanced security." Councilmember Zahilay said he "disagreed with those additions."
• The county accepted most of the cuts to Metro the Seattle Times outlined, including axing 200 jobs.