A good, sustainable budget

Is there a salve for the budget train wreck in Washington, D.C.? (Jack Daniels at noon is not an appropriate response.) The question centers on absent leadership and not those institutional mechanisms that have worked pretty well for the past 224 years.

Snohomish County could serve as a template — although chanting, “Snohomish County writ large!” will only produce quizzical looks in the other Washington.

Transparency, accountability, working in common cause. These were not characteristics of the previous county executive. They are touchstones of the current one, John Lovick, and they align with Lovick’s primary mission this year: Restoring faith in county government and producing a sustainable budget.

“We’re going to continue our current level of funding and make smart investments moving forward,” Lovick said. “We have so many worthy projects and programs that deserve funding. And as the economy improves, we will discuss those projects.”

It’s a “hold the line” budget, Lovick said, but it’s also a hold-the-line plan with a few strategic sweeteners sprinkled throughout.

As The Herald’s Noah Haglund reports, Lovick’s operating budget calls for $225 million in spending, 5.4 percent higher than the current $213 million budget. While the no-new-taxes budget tracks with swelling revenue, the administration has not gone spend-happy.

The budget includes proactive items designed to save money over the long term. These include a county ombudsman to bird-dog citizen complaints (a position The Herald Editorial Board agitated for earlier this year) that should tamp down liability and address challenges before they balloon into calamities. Lovick also is salting away $800,000 in an effort to rebuild an 11 percent reserve in the general fund.

Two goals merit particular attention. Lovick plans to dedicate a portion of the county’s road taxes to enhance pedestrian safety near elementary schools. “Nearly 40 percent of the schools in Snohomish County have limited or no safe sidewalks,” Lovick said.

Second, Lovick is forming a task force to address the growing dilemma of those living with mental illness. The question was thrown into relief after several deaths and coordination nightmares with the county jail and law enforcement. It needs to be a top priority.

Lovick’s inclusive, no-surprises leadership style is generating support from a variety of county actors, including Republican council veteran John Koster. “It’s a refreshing change from the past few years,” Koster told Haglund.

A budget bolstered by an improving economy is politically much easier to finesse than its recession alternative. This was a promising first test. There will be many more.

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