EVERETT — A year ago, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers turned in his annual budget plan only to see it scrapped and rewritten by the County Council.
Somers is determined to avoid a similar scenario this fall. He has met often with council members and other elected officials to talk dollars and cents. Over the past months, they’ve settled on a financial framework for 2019: No new taxes. No layoffs. And a goal of socking away enough cash to brave an eventual economic downturn.
They hope it sticks.
“We wanted to open and extend ourselves to ensure there would be no surprises and … that we could put forward a balanced budget that reflects the values of our community,” Somers said Tuesday in a budget address to county employees.
The proposed budget, Somers said, would help the county through a year that’s likely to see continued population growth, the start of regular passenger flights at Paine Field, and major phases of the courthouse renovation that began this month in downtown Everett. If the Boeing Co. decides to move ahead with production of a new mid-market aircraft dubbed the 797, the county wants to move quickly to convince the aerospace giant to build it here.
The executive recommends operating expenses of nearly $263 million, much of it for public safety. That’s more than 5 percent higher than last year. A healthy economy has helped buoy sales tax and real estate excise tax.
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.
Salaries and other expenses, however, continue to rise faster than revenues.
In the proposed budget, the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office could add a new diversion counselor as part of an alternative-sentencing program for thefts and lower-level felonies. It would steer eligible offenders toward rehabilitation programs intended to lower the risk of recidivism. Championing the effort is Adam Cornell, who is running unopposed to be the next county prosecutor.
That program figures into the county’s wider push to address social ills stemming from opioid addiction and behavioral health problems. The sheriff’s office has continued to expand its Office of Neighborhoods, which teams up patrol deputies with social workers to address homeless encampments and their impact on surrounding areas. A diversion center opened next to the jail earlier this year as a way to get people into treatment and more stable housing.
The executive described his plan as “the most bipartisan and collaborative process in the county’s history.” There was no disagreement from council members who reworked his proposal last year, when sticking points included Somers’ recommendation for a modest increase in property tax — ultimately rejected.
Head-butting over county finances continued early this year, when Somers vetoed hiring restrictions that the council imposed as a cost-saving measure. The council overrode the executive’s veto and council must now approve filling most management-exempt positions.
“I’m really grateful to Dave for listening to all the council members,” Republican Councilman Nate Nehring said.
Another council Republican, Sam Low, said the executive “definitely took all of our concerns (into consideration) and was open and transparent with us.”
Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright will play a lead role guiding the budget process between now and November, when the council typically passes the final version.
Wright, a Democrat, said she has spent “countless hours” this year with the executive and his finance staff.
She agreed that the process has been the most open she’s experienced, under three different executives, since joining the County Council in 2010.
“We’ll put our stamp on it and probably tweak a few things,” Wright said.