County Council adopts 2005 budget

The Snohomish County Council unanimously approved the proposed 2005 budget on Tuesday, and refrained from raising two of the county’s three property tax levies.

More than a dozen county employees will lose their jobs because of budget cuts. While there will be new fees next year – including charges for some sheriff’s office services and a bail fee for juveniles – the council removed a $5 a ton garbage tipping fee increase.

Not all got what they wanted.

For County Executive Aaron Reardon, that meant no expansion of the early childhood educational assistance program. For some on the council, that meant an increase in the general property tax levy.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect budget. But I think this is a good budget,” said John Koster, County Council chairman.

The 2005 budget will top $550 million, down from $572 million this year.

Reardon said the council’s budget changes were minor. He said it was a bipartisan budget and one he wouldn’t veto.

“It was a team effort,” Reardon said. “It took two parties to solve the challenges and solve the problems and move this county forward.”

The council ratified a 1 percent increase Tuesday in the county’s property tax levy that pays for road projects. The council did not increase the general property tax or the conservation futures levy that pays for the purchase of parks, forest and farmlands. That means the county can still collect taxes from these levies at the 2004 level.

The final budget means some county workers will lose their jobs next year. Reardon’s proposed budget cut 80 county jobs, but the council limited the cuts to about 35 jobs, and only 14 or so employees are expected to be laid off because most of the eliminated jobs are vacant positions.

The parks department lost park ranger jobs, and staff cuts were made in the planning, information services and human resources departments, as well as the sheriff’s and county executive’s offices.

The number of overall jobs will grow in 2005, however, as the county hires more workers to run the expanded county jail.

The council spent Monday making last-minute changes to department budgets, and had to devote part of Tuesday to plugging a $164,000 hole in the general fund caused by the changes.

The council instituted a $192,000 cut in all general fund programs, equal to one-quarter of 1 percent of the salaries of the workers in those programs, to bridge the budget gap.

The reduction is not expected to cut the salary levels of individual employees because departments can cover any potential salary shortfalls by shifting funds from other areas of their budgets.

It was the first year that the county attempted priority-based budgeting, in which next year’s spending plan was built from the first dollar up.

Councilman Dave Gossett said that made the budget difficult, but so was cutting the county’s workforce.

“Those are real people, with real jobs. And that makes it very, very hard,” Gossett said.

“The taxpayers expect us to tighten our belts,” Koster added. “This budget was a good start.”

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