EVERETT — A divided Snohomish County Council on Monday took a key step toward approving a budget with no tax increase for general services, but left some major unfinished work for another day.
The 2018 plan passed 3-2. Councilman Nate Nehring made the strongest push against new taxes. Fellow Republican Sam Low voted with him, as did Democrat Stephanie Wright.
“I think it will be a huge relief to Snohomish County residents,” Nehring said. “We’re at zero percent.”
Now, council members will need to work together to find the best savings, he said.
The council is scheduled to reconvene at 2 p.m. Tuesday, when it will have to do some trimming of spending requests to match the money collected.
The budget that passed is about $3.6 million less than what County Executive Dave Somers pitched earlier this fall. The executive on Monday criticized the council’s plan for putting the county on “an unsustainable path.” He warned that council members, “must be prepared to shoulder responsibility” for the service reductions.
“With over 76 percent of the budget directed towards public safety, that priority will inevitably be cut in the near future,” Somers said. “It is the equivalent of surrendering to uncontrolled growth, worsening congestion and eroding public safety.”
Somers has the option of vetoing the budget. He did not say whether he would.
Somers’ $252 million operating budget added five sheriff’s deputies, an expenditure all of the council members have said they support. The executive’s proposal would have cost the owner of a house assessed at the countywide average of nearly $336,000 an extra $11.32 next year. While not large in itself, the county hike comes at a time when the same homeowner faces an estimated $272 increase next year to pay for new education taxes authorized by the Legislature to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s demands in the McCleary case.
In Everett and areas to the south, homeowners also are paying higher property taxes and new car-tab fees for the Sound Transit 3 light-rail and bus package that voters passed last year.
Taxes for general county services account for just under 8 percent of the average property-tax bill. That’s less than the portion of the bill that generally goes toward fire protection and emergency medical services. More than 60 percent of the average bill goes toward education.
Last week, County Council Chairman Brian Sullivan proposed cutting the executive’s tax bump in half. It would have saved the average homeowner $5.66 next year, but would have reduced county revenue by $1.8 million. Now, the council will have to trim another $1.8 million in spending from Sullivan’s proposal to balance the budget that passed Monday.
“I tried to find cuts that would bring us to zero percent,” said Councilman Terry Ryan, who favored Sullivan’s approach. “Some were going to end up costing us more later on.”
Among other issues, Ryan said he was concerned about keeping the county’s reserve accounts healthy, to keep the county’s bond rating high and the cost of borrowing money low.
Nehring suggested 13 different cuts to balance the budget. He said they avoid layoffs and keep the five new sheriff’s deputies in place.
The cuts include eliminating some new positions and reducing the amount of money on hand to pay out legal claims and settlements.
The council Monday also voted for a 1 percent increase in levies for roads and the conservation futures program.
Those passed 4-1, with Nehring opposed.