EVERETT — Snohomish County adopted a 2022 budget this week, outlining how to spend $1.26 billion in taxpayer money.
The budget is boosted by higher-than-expected sales tax revenue, as well as federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
County Council members largely stuck to a plan laid out by county Executive Dave Somers.
Here are four main takeaways:
A ‘Frappuccino’-sized tax hike
A property tax increase to raise $2.3 million proved a contentious part of Snohomish County’s budget proceedings this year.
Property taxes for the county’s general fund will increase 2.5%. An average homeowner can expect to see a $7.39 bump to their bill.
“It’s the cost of a Frappuccino,” Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said. “For someone with an assessed (property) value of $1 million, it’s a couple Frappuccinos. That’s a very small price to pay to do the good work that all county government is doing.”
Without the tax hike, another economic downturn could mean across-the-board cuts to the county budget, Finance Director Nathan Kennedy told council members Wednesday.
Dozens of residents publicly testified against the increase. Nehring also called the tax bump inappropriate during a pandemic, pointing to higher-than-expected sales tax revenue and federal COVID relief funds coming into the county.
“Unfortunately, what families feel is the cumulative effect, across the board, of property taxes being increased at all levels,” he said. “… It’s the principle of adding to that.”
Attitudes toward the tax did not fall completely along partisan lines. Sheriff Adam Fortney voiced his support for Somers’ proposed budget.
“That includes the tax increase,” Fortney said. “That part is somewhat uncomfortable for me.”
Fortney added it was likely “not politically advantageous for me.”
A budget bump for law enforcement
Seventy-five percent of the county’s general fund is dedicated to law and justice, which will see significant investments in the 2022 budget.
Some capital maintenance will be deferred to help pay for three new sheriff’s deputies.
Fortney originally requested 10 new patrol deputies, but none were included in Somers’ proposed budget. The sheriff cited staffing shortages, as well as new police reform laws he said make deputies’ work take longer.
On Wednesday, Fortney said his office is working with a growing population and operating on “bare bones.”
The three new deputies were added in a budget amendment authored by Republican Councilmembers Sam Low and Nate Nehring.
The sheriff’s office has over 700 full-time employees, with about half of those working in the jail.
The agency will also benefit from upgraded helicopters and a bigger South Precinct under the new budget.
Two new detective positions will focus on domestic violence and crimes against children, as recommended in Somers’ original proposal.
Three crime prevention officers are also funded to handle non-emergency calls. Money is included for two more designated crisis responders.
Some residents, including Snohomish County’s Regional Law and Justice Council member Luisana Hernandez, took issue with such a large percentage of the general fund going toward law enforcement.
Anthony Greene, who identified himself as an Edmonds resident associated with the Coalition of Communities of Color, echoed the sentiment.
“These funds continue the work of building on a system that fails to address root causes and meet our needs as communities of color,” Greene said.
Clearing a court backlog
Nearly $12 million will help the county prosecutor and the courts clear a massive case backlog that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
That money will fund temporary positions to address urgent needs. The county will also pay court interpreters more in an attempt to retain their services. And two new Superior Court judge positions will be funded, bringing the county’s total to 17.
In requesting the two positions last month, Superior Court Judge Millie Judge said that based on current projections, if each case in the backlog were to go to trial, it would take six years to clear.
Judge said that in the five years leading up to the pandemic, the Superior Court saw an estimated 20% jump in caseload. There was a 67% increase in cases going to trial.
‘Hate Has No Home Here’
A few million dollars has been earmarked for the county’s new Office of Social Justice.
That includes $500,000 for a “Hate Has No Home Here” campaign spurred by recent events like racist threats in the Marysville School District, swastikas painted throughout the county and violence targeting people with Asian and Pacific Island heritage.
The 2022 budget also funds diversity, equity and inclusion training and an assessment of how Snohomish County government is reaching marginalized communities. The hope is to use the assessment for a strategic plan at the Office of Social Justice.