King County Council to maintain Metro bus service, public health, cops
Despite months of dire warnings, the King County Council is poised to preserve Metro bus service and keep public health clinics open as it gets set to approve a new $9 billion, two-year budget.
It was just last spring that voters rejected a ballot proposal to bail out King County Metro Transit. Because of declining revenues, the bus agency warned it would have to cut 250,000 hours of service and eliminate dozens of routes. Some bus cuts did go through last September.
But no more. After crunching the numbers, Council budget writers decided to maintain existing bus service through 2016. Councilmember Dave Upthegrove says you can thank a growing economy and consumer spending.
“The transit fund does rely heavily on sales tax, which had taken a particular beating during the great recession,” he said. “There has been an uptick in sales tax beyond recent projections and that has helped us in transit funding.”
While prioritizing services, the budget writers decided to keep the doors open at all ten county public health clinics, with help from cities, tribes, non-profits and other donors.
Sheriff John Urquhart got a big win, too. The sheriff’s department has lost about 150 employees since the recession. Last month, Urquhart told the council deputies could do little more than respond to 911 calls under his proposed spending plan, adding, “we’ll make do.”
When asked during the budget process which single program he would like restored, Urquhart was quick to ask for his domestic violence unit back. The council complied and Urquhart is ecstatic.
“This is an important unit for a sheriff or a police department that’s our size, we need this unit and I could not be happier to have this unit restored.”
The general fund portion of the budget amounts to $1.5 billion with about three-quarters of that going to pay for criminal justice programs, including the sheriff’s department, prosecutors and courts.
While trumpeting the programs saved, County Council budget chair Joe McDermott complained that county revenues can never keep up with demand for services, with expenses rising at 4-5 percent each year. State law holds property tax increases to one-percent. County Executive Dow Constantine has said many times that the system is broken.
“The executive is right,” said McDermott. “And we need that solution to come from the state.”
The programs protected and restored this time around come at the expense of other county services and with the savings from the elimination of an estimated 350 full time county jobs. The full King County Council is scheduled to vote on and adopt the two-year budget on Monday.