Snohomish County budget likely to hit law enforcement agencies

EVERETT — When Dave Somers delivers his first budget address as Snohomish County executive Friday, listen for what’s not included, rather than what is.

Since campaigning for his job last year, Somers has stressed that finances are tight in county government, despite the region’s overall prosperity. Local government revenues aren’t keeping up with costs, such as salaries and health care benefits, legal settlements and technology needs.

Estimates from earlier this year suggested the need to trim $6 million from the county’s operating budget, which is now about $230 million.

“It’s going to affect some of the services we provide; we’ve got to decide which ones,” said County Council Chairman Terry Ryan, who will have a lead role reworking the executive’s plan.

Somers’ job didn’t become any easier this summer after voters rejected a sales-tax measure known as Proposition 1. That would have generated millions of dollars for county public safety agencies and human services. The executive had warned of 3 percent cuts to county departments if the proposition failed.

With 75 cents of every general fund dollar spent by the county on cops, courts and corrections, law enforcement is certain to take a hit. Sheriff Ty Trenary has been working to make trims without sacrificing deputies. He recently alerted staff that the work release program at the jail — a $1.3 million annual expense — could be a casualty.

So expect more cuts when Somers rolls out a 2017 spending plan. That’s scheduled to happen at 11 a.m. Friday in the county’s Robert Drewel building.

From then on, it’s up to the County Council to shape the plan.

“The council will work with the executive and other electeds (elected officials) to do the best we can under difficult circumstances,” Ryan said.

Two public budget hearings are being scheduled for October.

Council members typically pass a budget before Thanksgiving. Somers is releasing his proposal about a week earlier than normal, potentially giving the council a chance to finish by mid-November.

Somers has said his priorities for next year include launching reforms of county government, saving taxpayers money, investing in infrastructure and innovation and prioritizing economic growth.

In a major exercise in executive belt-tightening, Somers in May recommended mothballing plans to build a new county courthouse, and renovating the 1960s-era court building at less than half the cost. Repairs are intended to address emergency issues, such as barely functioning elevators and the building’s earthquake readiness.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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