Council to Decide on Ballot Measure to Address Opioid Epidemic

You may have seen press reports about a new King County proposal to have a public vote on drug safe consumption or safe injection sites – called “CHELs” for “Community Health Engagement Locations.”  I support the proposal being placed on the ballot for public vote, so that voters will have a full range of options for consideration, in the face of an unprecedented and tragic epidemic of opioid overdoses. If this proposal appears on the ballot in February, 2018, voters will have an opportunity to fully and finally answer the question whether these CHEL sites should be tested as a possible way to connect drug users to treatment and save lives.
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Affordable Housing – A Regional Approach to a Complex Problem

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Over the last year, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, listening and thinking about the problem of crushingly high housing costs in our region.  With the support of my colleagues at the County Council and the County Executive, last year I sponsored a motion creating a regional task force of elected officials from around King County to study the regional parameters of this challenge and come up with regional approaches to address it.  We kicked this work off this summer, and it will continue for about the next year.   Continue reading

Improving Elections and Access to Voting

DSC00163One of the most important functions of County government is running elections.  Our democracy functions best when our elections reflect the will of all of the people, in the form of an informed electorate.  We have a responsibility to the public to eliminate barriers to voting.  I am proud to say, at a time when many jurisdictions are making it more difficult to vote, King County has been continually working to make it easier for as many eligible voters as possible to participate in our elections.

This week, I was proud to sponsor a motion that was approved unanimously by the County Council that will enhance our ability to make voting more accessible to all of our residents. The motion added flexibility to when and where Elections will establish Accessible Voting Centers for voters to cast ballots in person.

Since 2008, the County has required three Accessible Voting Centers for each election, to be located in:  Elections headquarters in Renton for the 20 days prior to the election, Union Station in downtown Seattle for the four days prior to the election; and Bellevue City Hall for the four days prior to the election.  These centers are temporary locations, staffed by elections workers, where people can vote in person and receive special assistance if needed due to disability or other reason.

There was a time when these Accessible Voting Centers were heavily used.  I can remember an election in Bellevue in 2010, right after the change to mail-in ballots, when we had hundreds of people using the Accessible Voting Center in city hall.

That time, however, has passed.  Now, we have fully shifted to vote by mail.  We have 43 ballot drop boxes around the county, and we have an online ballot program which allows voters to mark, review and print their ballots at home.  The demand for in-person and assisted voting has simply declined to the point where having these centers is not widely needed, not widely used and not at all efficient.  In our 2016 elections, for example, operating fixed Accessible Voting Centers cost from about $100 to over $1300 per voter served.

The old policy requiring Accessible Voting Centers also led to some silly outcomes.  For example, there will be a special election that affects only voters in Vashon Island in April.  Under our old legislation, Elections will be required to open and staff three Accessible Voting Centers in Renton, Bellevue and Seattle, even though the vast likelihood is that not a single voter will use any of those three locations.

Under the newly-adopted policy, Elections can use their limited resources much more effectively.  They will still operate one standard Accessible Voting Center at its headquarters in Renton during the 18 days prior to elections, as required under state law.  The Director of Elections, Julie Wise, will have authority to open other centers as necessary in locations that make sense.  For special elections, the need for additional AVCs would be determined in consultation with the jurisdictions participating in the special election. For primary and general elections, the need for additional AVCs would be determined “in a manner that maximizes resources and most effectively serves county residents,” and in consultation with the Disability Advisory Committee, the Citizens’ Elections Oversight Committee, and participating jurisdictions.

Under this new policy, Elections could open an Accessible Voting Center on Vashon Island for a special election on Vashon Island, instead of being required to open two in Seattle and Bellevue.  They will be able to redirect resources to be more responsive to voters with special needs – for example, they plan to use portable equipment to bring in-person voting to places where it is most needed for those who need assistance voting due to disabilities or any other reason.

To me, this legislation is a will be great for voters across King County.  It enables Elections to respond to more efficiently manage staff and resources, while enhancing the level of service provided to the public.   I will continue to keep an eye out for opportunities like this in the future to improve the way our government works.

Barn Again

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King County’s “Barn Again” program provides grants to preserve historic barns and outbuildings that reflect our agriculture heritage.  In 2016, six barns, three milk houses, one milking parlor and one chicken house located in eastern and southern rural areas have received Barn Again grants totaling more than $235,000.  The next round of grants is coming up this Spring!  If you have a barn or outbuilding that is historically associated with the working life of a farm, please consider applying!  Continue reading

CM Balducci Statement on Mercer Island/Sound Transit Litigation

For the last decade, I have worked to connect the eastside to the regional light rail system being built by Sound Transit.  I supported funding for light rail via the ST2 ballot measure which was approved by voters in 2008.  Through 2015, as both an elected official and an appointed Sound Transit Board member, I worked on behalf of the City of Bellevue to plan the light rail alignment and to adopt appropriate plans and regulations to take advantage of the opportunities presented by this major regional transportation investment.  Now, as a County Councilmember, I represent much of the eastside, including Mercer Island, as construction of Eastlink light rail begins in earnest.  Through it all, I have remained a strong proponent of the importance of providing true mass transit to our growing eastside.  Continue reading

ICYMI: Legislative Appointments

One of the responsibilities of the County Council is to appoint replacements to fill legislative positions that become vacant before the end of the regular term.  The law requires that when a mid-term vacancy occurs in the state legislature, the local district from the political party that has held the office selects three candidates for appointment.   The initial selection is made by the precinct committee officers (PCOs) from the legislative district, which are then approved by the countywide party organization and forwarded to the County Council for a final selection and vote.  Traditionally, but not always, the candidate with the most PCO votes is selected for the appointment.  These are important decisions, with a potentially large impact on the legislature and the residents of King County.

Congratulating newly appointed Representative Vandana Slatter on January 5, 2017

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Budget Talk: Crossing the Finish Line

In my last blog post, I described the County’s budget process as feeling like diving into the deep end of the pool.  In the past three weeks, my colleagues on the Budget Leadership Team (Budget Chair Dave Upthegrove, Rod Dembowski, and Kathy Lambert) and I have swum the length of the pool and it’s time to assess how well we did.  Throughout the collaborative process with my colleagues, I weighed each proposal against my personal commitment to provide core County services efficiently and well, to respond to the needs of residents, as we heard directly from them during our public outreach, and to respond to the most urgent needs of the day.  Continue reading

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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Budget Talk: What I’m Hearing

Last week, we began our review of the $11 billion Proposed Budget for the 2017/2018 biennium.  Throughout our process, the Council will evaluate hundreds of proposals across the government, from increasing the property tax levy supporting the County’s walk-on ferry system, to what new behavioral health programs to fund, to adding 300,000 services hours to Metro Transit, among many other issues.  Continue reading