The Metropolitan King County Council approved about $60 million in spending for the county’s response to the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, including money to continue operating quarantine facilities in Shoreline, Renton and elsewhere.
The funding package also includes $8 million to fund tourism efforts throughout the county, which some council members framed as a way to prepare to restart the local economy and get tax dollars flowing again once social distancing measures are relaxed.
Another $4 million will go toward arts and science organizations and live music venues.
“What we’re doing with this legislation is to help our economy recover [and] provide stimulus that is very needed,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles.
The new spending package follows a County Council vote in early March to spend nearly $30 million in emergency funding to help build and run isolation and quarantine sites early in the local response to the pandemic.
King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed the additional funding, and the county plans to craft a third emergency funding package in coming weeks, council members and staff said.
About $33 million will cover various costs associated with the county’s quarantine, isolation and shelter sites, including expanded capacity and costs of leasing buildings and adding new modular units.
The package includes funding for local chambers of commerce and $3.5 million to fund grants of up to $5,000 for struggling small businesses in unincorporated King County. To qualify, businesses must have 15 or fewer employees, annual gross revenues less than $1.5 million and have not already received coronavirus-related grants or loans.
The package also includes $1 million for grants for organizations providing services to youth experiencing homelessness, $483,000 for premium and overtime pay for nurses at isolation and shelter facilities, and $410,000 for two new body screening systems for the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to minimize physical contact.
The council unanimously approved the funding package, but split during a lengthy debate over how to pay for $4 million directed toward arts and science organizations and live music venues.
The tourism and arts funding was set to come from an advance the county would pay back with county lodging tax revenue. Those lodging taxes are spent on tourism, arts and affordable housing and were the subject of intense council debate in 2018.
But Council Chair Claudia Balducci worried about pulling lodging tax revenues away from affordable housing and successfully pushed an amendment to instead take the $4 million for arts from the county’s general fund.
“We have a massive housing shortage that is only getting worse during this time,” Balducci said.
Others sounded the alarm about taking money from the general fund, which will be hit hard by losses in tax revenue due to the pandemic. “I’m struggling right now to understand how that is fiscally responsible,” Councilmember Rod Dembowski said.
The council is likely to revisit the funding switch again soon, Balducci and others said, possibly using federal aid or another source to cover the $4 million.