Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed budget includes $22 million in cuts that would fall hardest on law enforcement and criminal justice. He and other officials blame a law limiting the annual growth of tax revenue.

Share story

Despite a strong economy, King County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday said his proposed biennium budget would have to cut $22 million in spending, with the reductions falling hardest on the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office.

The executive said the state cap of 1 percent on property-tax revenue growth each year has produced chronic budget shortfalls for counties across the state.

The cuts won’t affect the county’s 911 emergency response, he said. But since criminal-justice programs make up 73 percent of the county’s budget, these programs are disproportionately impacted, Constantine said in his annual budget address.

The Metropolitan King County Council will take up the budget proposal next month.

The 2017-2018 general fund budget totals $1.6 billion in expenditures. The previous biennium budget was $1.55 billion.

“The Legislature is starving local government at a time when the demand for service is great and growing,” Constantine said.

The cuts would translate into about 12 layoffs in 2017 with more possible in 2018, county officials said.

Constantine was joined by county executives and council members from several other counties — including Pierce, Snohomish, Whatcom and San Juan — as well as by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and King County Sheriff John Urquhart.

The regional leaders urged the Legislature to repeal the 1 percent limit and allow them to collect revenue equal to inflation and population growth. King County grew by 37,000 people last year, Constantine said.

The executive said that without changing the tax limit, the county anticipates having to make an additional $20 million in cuts in 2019.

“We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact of these and other cuts, but let there be no mistake — unless the Legislature fixes the problem, these reductions will only get worse over time. And local governments across the state face the identical situation,” Constantine said.

One of the few bright spots in the budget is transit services. Constantine said strong sales-tax and fare-revenue growth will allow Metro Transit, which has its own dedicated funding sources, to add about 300,000 hours of service over the next two years.

About $30 million will be spent across the county to reduce overcrowding and improve on-time bus service, he said.

Additionally Metro will add more buses, expand some existing bus bases and design new park-and-ride facilities.

Under the executive’s proposed budget, the Prosecutor’s Office faces $2 million in cuts while the Sheriff’s Office would lose its four helicopters and marine unit, saving about $1.4 million.

Superior Court would eliminate three court commissioners for a savings of $1.2 million. The jail would cut work-release and electronic home-detention programs by $1.6 million.

Other reductions would bring the total criminal-justice cuts to at least $15 million, county officials said.

The sheriff’s helicopters serve the region’s search-and-rescue teams, which often respond to mountain and river rescues.

Urquhart said he had two choices when faced with the $2 million in cuts: layoff patrol officers or cut the sheriff’s helicopter and marine units.

“I made the decision knowing full well that people were going to die because we could not rescue them,” he said.

Satterberg noted that when the Legislature adopted the Tim Eyman-inspired 1 percent tax-growth cap, leaders said it would not impact any government services.

In his nine years in office, Satterberg said, he’s lost 60 attorneys and support staff.

“That does affect services. It is having a real impact on crime and justice in King County,” he said.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said his 2017-2018 budget, announced Friday, would cut about $7 million to balance a $238 million budget.

About $2 million of those cuts fell on the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, He said county revenues have risen 3 percent, but the cost to provide services is up 5 per cent.

“We cannot give the services next year that we are giving today,” Somers said.