How Snohomish County will address a $24 million expected budget shortfall

Apr 20, 2020, 2:44 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2020, 12:15 pm

marysville, snohomish...

(MyNorthwest file photo)

(MyNorthwest file photo)

The coronavirus crisis is causing a great deal of economic pain all across the country, especially close to home in Snohomish County. The county might face a $24 to $26 million budget shortfall, and now the county council is trying to mitigate the hurt any way they can.

Snohomish County Council Chair Nate Nehring is sponsoring one piece of legislation in an effort to tackle some of the issues: a hiring freeze proposal. He joined the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH to explain.

“So what my ordinance would do is apply a county-wide hiring freeze. It does allow for if there are essential positions that come up absolutely need to be filled … the idea is to slow the hiring or freeze the hiring so we’re not adding to the cost, knowing there’s going to be a shortfall of the end of the year here,” Nehring said.

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When he says freeze the hiring, does that mean beyond the current positions that are either new or just unfilled? If someone were to resign in two weeks or retire in three weeks, they wouldn’t refill those positions?

“Yeah, so if there was a retirement or some other reason that somebody left their position, that position would be frozen … where normally they could just move on with the hire within their own department, now they have to come to council and all the positions are frozen, unless there’s approval.”

Have they determined how many jobs would need to be frozen to make up the $24 to $26 million?

“I don’t think we could make up the $24 to $26 million just on the hiring freeze alone,” Nehring said. “This is just one of several steps that’s going to need to be taken. We’ve done other things, like cut all travel and training, postponed capital projects, eliminate studies … and then we’re going to have to go into the budget and likely do a budget revision once we have some of that hard data.”

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As Jason noted, part of the issue is much of this is still based on a bunch of assumptions, including how long the shutdown continues, and what the spending habits of the constituency will actually be once the economy comes back to life.

“It’s really difficult when it is unknown. … Until we get actual data from the state, which I think we’ll get later on in May on what sales tax revenue looks like and exactly what our shortfall is going to be, it’s really difficult to make the decisions that need to be made without that information,” he said.

Making cuts to government regardless of coronavirus

Additionally, the coronavirus has inadvertently helped shine a light on government waste that should be addressed anyway.

“There’s a lot of places in government, not just county — but state, local, all government — which we really should be looking at cutting anyway,” Nehring said. “You’ve got your mandated functions, obviously your key things like law enforcement, and roads, and that kind of thing, but there are a lot of services and a lot of things provided that aren’t mandated and don’t necessarily need to be there.”

“I think that when we’re looking at what cuts that need to be made, those need to be the first things identified and eliminated from the budget,” he added.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3 – 6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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How Snohomish County will address a $24 million expected budget shortfall