[Hpn] King County, WA - Outdated revenue formula strangles county services -

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Wed, 14 Aug 2002 21:45:21 -0500


Outdated revenue formula strangles county services

Although reductions are likely to some homeless/emergency-housing
programs, the reduction will be far less than the 50 percent
cited in Fine's prior commentary.

___________________________________________________
By Ron Sims - Special to The Seattle Times - August 14, 2002

Much has been said in recent months about King County's financial
crisis and the impact on parks and human-service programs.

A recent commentary by United Way of King County President Jon Fine
("King County's service cuts shred Community Safety Net" guest
commentary, 8/1/2002) addressed this issue, and while I am grateful
for the attention it brings to the need to find solutions to the crisis in
human-services funding, the article contained inaccuracies I feel
compelled to correct.

I congratulate United Way on its successful charitable campaign,
fueled in part by the record-breaking contributions of King
County employees.

But if that campaign had fallen short and there had been a drop
in revenues, United Way would have had no choice but to reduce
its grants to community programs.

This is exactly the situation King County faces today.

County government is strangled by an outdated revenue formula of
sales and property taxes that has simply not kept up with
changing times, priorities and mandated requirements.

A number of factors  the national recession, city annexations and
incorporations resulting in lowered sales tax revenues, rising
labor costs, voter-approved tax-cutting initiatives and unfunded
mandates passed down from state and federal governments  have
all converged to create a fiscal emergency for King County.

King County's human-services budget totals over $196 million from
county current expense, state, federal and other funds that
enable the county to provide a wide range of services and
community supports.

Of that $196 million for human services, only $15 million, or
8 percent, is from our current-expense fund, which is where
we have the financial crisis.

While I have not yet finalized my 2003 proposed budget, it
is likely that the county's current-expense human-services budget
will be reduced by approximately $6 million.

This represents a 44-percent reduction to current-expense-
funded human services and an approximately 3-percent
reduction to our total human-services budget for 2003.

These reductions will result in a loss of some services but do
not signal the county's withdrawal from the human-service
community nor default on our commitment to remain an integral
participant in the community-services safety net.

On the contrary, we will preserve intervention programs for at-risk
youth and adults that help us to minimize impacts on the
criminal-justice system.

We will preserve programs for victims of domestic violence.

We will preserve local-match dollars to support mental-health
services and federal work-training programs for youth.

Although reductions are likely to some homeless/emergency-housing
programs, the reduction will be far less than the 50 percent
cited in Fine's commentary.

Although we have suffered significant state cuts to our mental
-health budget, we will continue to locally provide more than
$100 million in mental-health and substance-abuse treatment,
as well as housing programs and services for veterans and
persons with developmental disabilities.

It is true that law-and-justice costs have risen sharply over the
past decade. King County now expends 68 percent of its general
fund on criminal justice, up from 58 percent in 1990, and this
trend holds true for county governments statewide.

Rest assured, we are aggressively developing cost-effective
alternatives to incarceration to lower those costs.

Our nationally recognized Mental Health Court diverts mentally
ill misdemeanants from jails to community treatment.

Mentally-ill-offender initiatives have increased linkages to
treatment, reduced recidivism and improved public safety.

Our efforts to reduce both juvenile crime and the cost of the
juvenile-justice system have met with considerable success.

Collectively called the Juvenile Justice Operational Master Plan
(JJOMP), these efforts include Juvenile Drug Court,
research-based family interventions and system efficiencies.

Together, they have contributed to dramatic reductions in the
numbers of youth in detention, allowing for the closure of three
units at the juvenile detention facility and juvenile-justice
savings of over $1 million.

Due in part to the success of these efforts, King County was
selected as one of 11 national sites to receive a five-year
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant targeted to
substance-abusing juvenile offenders.

In 2003, we will begin implementation of the Adult Justice
Operational Master Plan (AJOMP), approved by the County Council
this July, which will prioritize jail services for violent offenders
or flight risks, but will expedite connections for nonviolent
offenders to less-expensive community intervention and
treatment programs.

It is also true that more cuts will be necessary in 2004 if we
cannot find long-term solutions to our funding crisis. The
Regional Policy Committee, comprised of elected officials from
county and city governments, is meeting to develop regional
options and solutions.

We must also build and strengthen our relationships with the
Legislature to gain support for county programs and reform county
revenue options.

If the state is not able to adequately fund the mandated services
it requires of county governments, it must be willing to provide
the tax options and tools counties need to raise revenue to
pay for services.

I agree that this must be a community effort  federal, state,
county, cities, businesses, nonprofit agencies and private
citizens  working together to create stable funding for critical
services.

The quality of life for communities across King County relies on
our ability to find these long-term solutions.

I have pledged my full energy to this effort. I urge United Way and its
members to join me in this critical endeavor.


Ron Sims is King County executive.
Copyright  2002 The Seattle Times Company
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