County Council overrides executive’s veto on hiring freeze

The disagreement stems from the yearly budget that was passed in the fall.

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council convened a rare special meeting Friday afternoon to override Executive Dave Somers’ veto of a hiring ordinance.

The vote was 5-0.

Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said the hiring restriction she and her colleagues restored, on its own, is only a small part of keeping the county budget in check.

“Every piece is important and we have to start somewhere,” Wright said after the vote.

She said she would meet regularly with the executive and other county leaders throughout the year, as they seek out more savings.

The disagreement stems from the yearly budget the council passed in the fall. The council zeroed out a small tax increase that Somers had proposed for the county’s general levy. While holding the line on taxes, the executive said the council failed to make corresponding cutbacks in spending. He said their budget, which is in effect now, spends $2 million more than the county expects to take in from revenues this year.

Council members Friday said they have not yet had a chance to review the executive’s financial forecast. They’re promising a series of other belt-tightening measures throughout the year to rein in costs.

As one step in that direction, they passed the restricted hiring ordinance Jan. 17, over the objections of Somers and other elected officials in county government.

It would affect 88 positions classified as “management exempt.” They tend to be among the highest-paid jobs in county government, but are a small slice of the 1,500-person workforce supported by the operating budget.

The council exempted some positions in the version. It also got rid of a requirement to keep positions vacant for at least 60 days.

Somers vetoed the legislation Wednesday, saying that it unfairly restricted the county’s independently elected leaders from hiring for certain management jobs. The executive said the legislation wouldn’t accomplish its intended purpose of saving money, either.

“I reluctantly vetoed this ordinance because I, my staff, and other elected officials believe it is counterproductive, erodes the ability of our elected officials to manage their budgets and departments, and really focuses our energies and attention at micro issues rather than the broader fiscal issues the county faces,” the executive told the council Friday.

He asked them to hold off on overriding his veto for 30 days so they could work together to draw up a road map for approaching their budget challenges. They declined.

Councilman Terry Ryan defended the council’s approach.

“We’re trying to look out for the taxpayer and we’re trying to make sure we spend their money wisely,” Ryan said. “We’re not talking about what’s happening this week. We’re talking about the future finances of the county.”

The council is set to consider more steps next week to help shore up county finances.

One proposal would make customers pay the transaction fees for using credit, debit and other charge cards. It could apply to payments for fines, permits and various filing fees. The county could potentially recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees that it has been absorbing each year.

A public hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in council chambers.

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

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