Budget Talk: Diving Deep

The County’s budget process can feel like diving into the deep end of a very deep pool, but it is almost time to start swimming.  In week two of our budget panels, we are reviewing everything the 731-page, $11B proposed County budget contains, what it does and what it doesn’t do.

In some ways, King County is like a huge conglomerate, with widely different lines of business, including and courts and jails, roads and transit, public health and human services, elections and tax assessments, and utilities – all on top of providing the full range of local government services to the 240,000+ residents of unincorporated King County.  And, as I touched upon last week, our funding sources and allowed legal uses are even more complex than our government structure and web of services.

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In the coming days we will complete this deep dive into the whole budget and start to make decisions about targeted changes to the Executive’s proposal.  What should we prioritize?  How do we make decisions that best serve the far-flung and diverse residents of this 13th largest County in the country?  Here are some of my touchstones as we engage this work:

Swimming in Our Lane, And Doing it Well

A key budget principle for me is that we should focus first on funding and performing our core regional and local functions – public safety, transportation, utilities, public health, etc.  We should do the things that only the County can do, and we should do those things well and efficiently.  For example, I will be looking for ways to make sure our regional public safety and justice functions are adequately funded.  At the same time, we will need to continue to focus on ways to make our services as efficient and transparent so residents can see how and how well their tax dollars are spent.

Public Needs and Interests

Tuesday night, we completed our third and final public hearing on the budget in Kent.  We held these hearings in the evening and in locations around the County, in an attempt to make it easier for as many people as possible to participate.  We heard consistent themes around saving the Sheriff’s Air Support and Marine Units from elimination, maintaining the ability of police in the southend to book suspects into the MRJC in Kent, as well as support for specific programs such as mentoring, tenant advocacy and more.  We also heard some things people want us to do less of — less bureaucracy, and lower taxes and fees.

Addressing the Biggest Unmet Needs of Today 

Beyond finding ways to preserve the important service the County provides, we need to find ways to meet the changing needs of our growing region.  In some cases, we have the funds to meet the need.  The Metro Transit budget, for example, includes the addition of 300,000 service hours and hundreds of millions of capital investment to build the infrastructure for even more service in the future.

In other cases, we are making some progress and need to make more.  Providing more affordable housing across the county has been a priority for me this year already and I will look for ways to fund more projects as we work through our changes.

Finally, we are drastically underfunding maintenance and repair of roads and bridges in unincorporated King County.  After decades of shrinking revenue, we estimate it would cost $350 million annually over the next 10 years to fully address the current backlog of needed repairs and bring the system up to a state of good repair.  Unfortunately, the County will have only about $100 million a year to meet this need.  I will work with my colleagues to explore and develop strategies to better fund road maintenance and repair.

You Can Still Provide Comments

Our budget hearings may be done, but you can still contact me and other Councilmembers through the budget website, or by emailing me directly at Claudia.Balducci@kingcounty.gov.

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