Besides the diverse entertainment line up in King County Parks, we are also moving ahead with our budget process and finding the opportunities in this big challenge we face.
A couple weeks ago, all King County departments turned in their preliminary budget documents for Executive and Budget office review. Because of the magnitude of the deficit, every single department director in King County has been asked for targeted reductions in the 2009 budget. But criminal justice is both our largest expense and highest priority, so cuts in that area are significantly less than those being taken in other areas.
Still, a preliminary look at the budget submittals has already turned up some innovative proposals and partnerships that preserve services while reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and in some cases, increasing revenue – all of which will help us close the $68 million gap we’re facing. At least for this year.
We are working closely with our department directors, separately elected officials, and labor unions in King County to create a countywide budget that takes into account all of the services we provide to county residents and employees, rather than looking at each department as a silo.
But as I’ve mentioned every time I discuss the budget, we are not alone in dealing with this challenge and the gaps will grow in years to come because for decades county governments have been given a very limited list of options for funding their services. In recent years, those options have been further limited by growth management decisions (which have rightly funneled growth to urban areas rather than sprawl) and tax limiting measures. Basically, times have changed but our funding mechanisms have not kept pace. Now many counties in the state are facing a major budget gap or looming one – only the magnitude is different.
Like rowing a boat, all oars must pull in the same direction to make progress. So we are reaching out to other county leaders in the same boat with budget gaps and enlisting their support in Olympia from the legislature to give all counties more tools for funding county services.
For now though, I turn my attention to reviewing the budgets submitted by county department directors. We’ll work them over throughout the summer to create a balanced budget for submission to the county council.
It won’t be a lazy summer, but it will be a productive one that yields a workable budget in the fall.