County budget builds on play-nice approach

The County Council is due to vote Monday on next year’s spending plan, which mostly avoids new taxes.

EVERETT — A Snohomish County budget is shaping up with uncommon agreement among elected officials, sticking to a path that avoids new taxes and adds public safety personnel where possible.

The real test arrives Monday, when the County Council is to vote on the spending plan for next year. A draft that Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright unveiled last week builds on a framework developed with County Executive Dave Somers’ office over months of talks.

“Some of these things are council changes. Others are just things that came in after the executive’s budget was solidified,” Wright told her colleagues Nov. 7.

Somers in September recommended an operating budget of nearly $263 million.

Monday’s hearing to pass a final budget is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. in council chambers.

What’s in store for next year?

The executive suggested hiring two sheriff’s deputies. Wright would add another three — bringing the total to five — in mid-2019. Two would be assigned to a gang unit, another to traffic enforcement.

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office would receive funding for a new detective focused on domestic violence cases.

Paine Field’s fire department would add six firefighters to handle an influx in flights and passengers expected next year with the opening of a commercial terminal. The county-run airport now employs about 15 firefighters, including some who double as mechanics, county spokesman Kent Patton said. The airport is self-funded, drawing its budget through fees and grants rather than taxes.

The budget would sock away $2 million for a future sheriff’s office south precinct at the Cathcart property south of Snohomish.

Another $2.1 million in dedicated sales tax would go toward converting part of the underused Denney Juvenile Detention Center into addiction treatment facilities.

And $1 million in road dollars would be set aside for efforts to revamp the U.S. 2 trestle, which is a state route. Councilman Sam Low has advocated studying an eastward extension of the Boeing Freeway, also known as Highway 526, which now merges with I-5 near the Eastmont neighborhood and Wood Creek. Another $500,000 would be set aside to address traffic congestion around the interchange of Highway 522 and Paradise Lake Road, also a state project.

Councilman Nate Nehring touted efforts to increase the county’s cash reserves.

Councilman Terry Ryan said he appreciated Wright’s budget proposals and expects to suggest some changes of his own.

“I’ll look at them and I’ll probably propose a couple of amendments,” Ryan said.

Last year’s county budget created months of political turbulence. A council majority rejected a property tax increase that Somers had recommended and which had some support on the council. The minimalist tax approach helped the county sidestep rancor over property tax hikes for state schools and transit, but it made for some creative last-minute pruning.

This year, favorable economic winds are helping. County sales tax receipts are expected to increase $6 million over 2018. New construction is expected to bring in another $1.2 million in property taxes.

The budget vote comes as the county is undertaking a major overhaul of the downtown courthouse.

Also, as part of a major economic development push, the county and other partners are trying to convince the Boeing Co. to build a new mid-market airplane in the area and to increase the opportunities for people entering the workforce to train in the skilled trades.

Another priority is fighting opioid addiction and related problems.

County leaders have no plans to increase property taxes for general operations. That’s in contrast to the 1 percent increase that the city of Everett and many other local governments typically take every year.

The County Council will consider a 1 percent bump in the property tax for road and bridge work. That would add less than $5 to the tax bill of a house assessed at the countywide average of $377,600, according to Somers’ office. That levy applies to unincorporated areas, where nearly half the county’s 800,000-plus residents live.

A 1 percent increase in the conservation futures levy would add about 1 cent per month to the same tax bill, Somers’ staff said. That supports land purchases to protect open space and natural areas.

The operating budget doesn’t include the airport, road-building or human services programs, among other functions. Across all county government, total projected spending would surpass $983 million under the executive’s proposal. The overall county budget would include more than 2,900 employee positions.

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

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