Five takeaways from Snohomish County’s historic $1.5B budget

Spending plan gets a boost from $80 million infusion of ARPA money. Additional funds earmarked for law enforcement, courts.

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EVERETT — How much does it cost to run Snohomish County for the year?

According to the budget the Snohomish County Council passed unanimously Wednesday, it takes $1.52 billion. That works out to $1,820 per each of the 833,540 people in the county.

And this isn’t your typical spending plan.

Certainly, most of the money goes toward paying for day-to-day operations, like salaries, and it also prioritizes investments in public safety, affordable housing, economic opportunity and climate resilience.

But this budget is unique, thanks to a one-time injection of roughly $80 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA.

The federal aid was doled out nationally to provide relief to state, local and tribal governments that were negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Snohomish County received about $160 million to disperse over two years, and its impact is extensive.

That said, here are five things to know about the county’s 2023 budget:

1. ARPA to the rescue!

The one-time funds provide a “generational opportunity” to make a “real difference in people’s lives,” said County Executive Dave Somers. The millions will go to four categories of county concern: Housing, homelessness and behavioral health; youth, family, and senior supports; economic and workforce development; emergency response, law and justice.

Some of those bucks are already at work.

Millions — $7.8 million to be exact — have been pledged to increasing access to child care. Another chunk will be used to purchase two hotels, creating 165 new housing units for people without shelter. The Office of the Neighborhoods, a program that partners social workers with law enforcement’s officers to better connect with vulnerable populations, will receive salaries to hire two new social workers, thanks to council members Sam Low and Nate Nehring.

2. Lawyering up and buckling down

An unprecedented backlog of cases — that prosecutors and defense attorneys are struggling to catch-up on — has bogged down proceedings due to suspended trails during the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, the sheriff’s office has 100 openings that need to filled. The backlog and staff shortage spurred Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell and Sheriff Adam Fortney to plead for help for months.

Well, they got their funding.

Council members fulfilled Cornell’s request for $6.47 million to create a new unit to address the increase in homicides and other violent crimes. The money will also fund a new full time deputy prosecuting attorney and allow for more attention to be given to persistent offenders. Cornell said the added dollars are “transformational” and will make the county a “safer and more livable place.”

The Sheriff’s Office received $3.52 million. Money will go into deputy salary contracts to hopefully begin filling the 100 openings. It will also be used to buy body cameras and other equipment.

3. A sleeper amendment

Council Chair Megan Dunn prioritized an issue that none of her male counterparts noticed.

On a typical property deed, the husband’s name is listed first and the wife’s name is listed secondarily, if a second name is included at all. But a few years ago, the county got a software update, and the new program only provided space for one name.

That effectively erased thousands of people — primarily women, said Dunn — from property ownership records.

On Wednesday, Dunn secured money to add an employee to the county assessor’s office to restore all the lost names.

No one asked for this: Somers didn’t fund it in the original budget nor did the assessors office request the funding. But constituents flagged the oversight for Dunn — the only woman on the council — and Dunn prioritized the subsequent funding.

“It’s disproportionately impacting women. That’s why it’s front of mind for me,” Dunn said. “(I’ve had) constituents reach out to me, so the next step was to do something.”

The amendment passed on a 3-2 vote, with council members Low and Nehring dissenting.

4. To tax or not to tax

Next year will see the county’s share of property tax go up 1%. That’s the max allowed annually under state law — if counties want to do so.

Democratic council members Jared Mead, Strom Peterson and Dunn thought it necessary to better serve Snohomish County residents. It’ll generate $970,000 for needed services, they argued.

Nehring, a Republican, disagreed. He proposed cutting $970,000 from other line items to avoid the tax increase. Mead applauded Nehring’s effort to keep taxes lower, but ultimately the amendment failed in a 2-3 vote, with the dissenting votes coming from Dunn, Mead and Peterson.

5. All on the same page

Some years, councils scrap the entire budget proposed by the county executive. Other years, a budget is barely approved amid bitter debate among council members on spending priorities.

Not this year.

This $1.52 billion budget passed unanimously with most changes agreed on in 5-0 votes.

Apparently the public shared the same unanimous sentiment.

Budget deliberations in 2020 drew a crowd of about 150 people, but this year, no members of the public tuned in or showed up to comment on the use of their tax dollars before Wednesday’s vote.

“I was surprised,” Dunn said. But the council had already hosted three hearings for public comment, including an evening meeting, and kept email inboxes open for written comment, so any contention appears to have been resolved.

Shortly after the meeting, Somers released a statement, applauding the Snohomish County Council for their “thoughtful and transparent” approach to the budget.

Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449;; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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