County Council, Lovick tangle over plan to reroute tax money

EVERETT — When Snohomish County leaders agreed last year to build a new nine-story courthouse building, they raised property taxes to pay for it.

Whether it actually gets spent that way, though, is the root of an argument brewing between a majority of the County Council and Executive John Lovick.

Lovick’s budget plan calls for spending about $5.9 million of the new money on next year’s day-to-day expenses. Council chairman Dave Somers, and two others want the money to pay off bonds for the $162 million courthouse project.

“We raised property taxes just for the courthouse and now we’re using that money for other purposes,” Council Chairman Dave Somers said.

The executive’s office plans to wait another year or more to buy the bonds.

Lovick recommended a $230 million budget in late September. It includes 2,789 positions, 14 more than last year. The plan would increase the county’s general property-tax levy by 1 percent, making for the third straight annual increase in the levy.

Deputy Executive Mark Ericks said what’s in the proposed budget matches the courthouse funding package the council approved last year. “We’re more than happy to answer questions about how we arrived at a balanced budget,” Ericks said. “If they want us to sell the bonds immediately, all they have to do is say so.”

In late 2013, the county’s bond counsel recommended against taking out the bonds right away. That was in part because the county already had $75 million in bonds on hand for what was expected to be a renovation of the existing 1967 court building. The county needs to use the bonds within three years and could face penalties if it doesn’t.

The cost of the courthouse project more than doubled last year after the council decided to build a new building across the street from the Xfinity Arena. Rethinking the project also set back the timetable for starting construction, now expected to begin in mid-2015 and finish by early 2017.

To cover the price difference of more than $80 million between the courthouse renovation and the new building, the County Council increased property taxes in 2014. That added about $20 per year for a home assessed at the countywide average of $223,000.

During a public meeting Wednesday, Somers, along with Councilmen Ken Klein and Terry Ryan, wondered whether Lovick’s budget would pencil out for next year and beyond.

About $5.9 million in tax revenue that eventually would go toward paying off courthouse-construction debt is directed next year toward various expenses. Council members consider that a one-time funding solution that could leave a hole in 2016, when the money is needed for debt payments.

“The proposed budget certainly isn’t sustainable,” Ryan said. “It’s just going to dig a deeper hole for the county in 2016.”

Ericks dismissed some of the long-term funding worries as a misunderstanding.

“More than likely, they didn’t understand what we’d recommended,” he said. “And they didn’t participate in the development process.”

Other difficult issues in next year’s budget include bills from March’s catastrophic Oso mudslide. Lovick’s proposed budget sets aside $2 million for costs not reimbursed by the federal or state government.

Labor contracts for all of the county’s 40-plus organized labor groups are set to expire at the end of this year. That could add to salary and benefit costs.

Somers and some other council colleagues also have said they want to review the 10 percent raises many of Lovick’s top managers received earlier this year.

The council is scheduled to vote on its version of the budget Nov. 24. After that, the executive has 10 days to sign it, veto it, or let it take effect without a signature.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465,

Upcoming budget meetings on Snohomish County’s 2015 budget:

Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. — County Council hearings on county executive’s proposed 2015 budget in council chambers on the eighth floor of the Robert J. Drewel Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett

Nov. 24, 10:30 a.m. — Final hearing on the County Council’s proposed budget, in council chambers. The executive has 10 days after receiving the council’s plan to sign or veto it.

To share your thoughts about Snohomish County’s proposed 2015 budget, email the County Council at

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