King County Executive Kurt Triplett will propose shutting 39 neighborhood parks Jan. 1 as another step in closing a $56 million budget shortfall next year.

King County Executive Kurt Triplett will propose shutting 39 neighborhood parks Jan. 1 as another step in closing a $56 million budget shortfall next year.

“This is a difficult day for me as King County executive,” Triplett said as he announced plans to mothball the parks in unincorporated areas stretching from the Federal Way area to north of Kirkland. “I’m zeroing out all local parks funding from the general fund. …

“We’re simply out of tools and out of money.”

Unless cities, school districts or other public or private agencies agree to take over the parks, he said, county workers will put fences around playgrounds, severely reduce maintenance, and lock parking-lot entrances.

Triplett’s staff said closing parks would eliminate 13 jobs and would allow the county to take a $4.6 million credit in next year’s budget, based on two years of savings. It’s part of a 2010 budget plan that is still under development. Triplett also proposes to:

• Reduce $17 million in overhead charges and in the executive, budget and strategic planning offices and possibly Metropolitan King County Council;

• Use about $13 million dedicated from sales taxes to pay for mental illness and drug dependency programs. The money would go toward funding existing programs including Drug Court and Mental Health Court; and

• Negotiate concessions from labor unions equivalent to this year’s unpaid 10-day furlough, saving $8.5 million.

This is the second time this decade the county has dealt with a budget problem in part by asking cities to take over local parks. Since 2002, cities and other entities become owners and operators of 11 swimming pools and 52 parks. Property-tax levies approved by voters in 2003 and 2007 to fund regional parks don’t fund the urban-area neighborhood parks.

The parks on the mothball list are in unincorporated urban areas adjacent to Seattle, Burien, Kent, Renton, Kirkland, Issaquah, Renton and Federal Way. They range in size from 1.2-acre Green Tree Park outside Kent to 44.5-acre Maplewood Park near Renton.

Fourteen of the parks are in areas voting this year on incorporation or annexation to an existing city. Fifteen are in areas in which there may be incorporation votes in 2011 or 2012, Triplett said.

Because the county doesn’t have the same taxing authority that cities do — particularly to impose a utility tax — Triplett said taxes being paid for regional services such as courts and elections are being used to maintain local services in urban areas that haven’t joined cities.

The Legislature this year boosted car tabs by $5 — with an opt-out provision — to keep 47 endangered state parks open.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com