Sax wants earlier input into budget

With all the talk recently about Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s move to adopt a priorities-based budget for 2005, some on the council are wondering how much influence they’ll have in the creation of next year’s spending plan.

The council usually gets a draft budget at the end of September, and has limited time to make changes before it’s adopted in November. But at the last meeting of the council’s finance committee, some are suggesting that the council jump into budget talks sooner, rather than later.

"Shouldn’t we be involved in that priority setting process?" asked Councilman Jeff Sax.

Sax is asking for a Reardon-led briefing on the executive’s plans for developing the 2005 budget.

"I don’t think we want to let this horse get very far out of the barn without being fully educated on the process," he said.

Budget, take two: Facing continued budget woes last year, the council and former county executive Bob Drewel asked departments to tighten their belts and reduce spending. With 2003’s budget books now being closed, officials say county departments avoided about $1 million in spending. Overall, departments spent $4 million less than anticipated in 2003. Expenditures from the general fund budget — the pot of money that pays for basic government services such as the sheriff’s office, courts and parks — were about $162 million, and not $166 million as budgeted.

Budget, take three: The county collected more than twice the amount expected last year in fees for recording legal papers, pulling in $3.3 million. The county’s bean counters say low interest rates for home refinancing led to the increase in filings and additional revenue.

Councilman John Koster says if it qualifies for the ballot, voters will pass it. "Name one time when they have failed to cut their taxes."

County departments would face across-the-board cuts of 9 percent, or reductions as large as 30 percent if law-and-justice programs are spared. Either way, that means fewer government services.

"There are certain things we will not do," Koster said.

Bad plant, bad: The county may expand its list of noxious weeds to include Bohemian knotweed. The plant is a cross between Japanese knotweed, a plant first brought to England in 1825 from Asia as a garden ornamental, and another introduced exotic from the buckwheat family, giant knotweed. If the county council approves, the plant will join 87 others on the county’s noxious weeds list, including kudzu, policeman’s helmet and leafy spurge. Property owners are required under state law to prevent the spread of noxious weeds on their land. Some plants on the list are known to clog waterways, and some are poisonous to people and animals.

Claim of the week: An Arlington-area woman wants the county to replace her carpet. A neighborhood drain got clogged during heavy rains in late December, and water backed up to the woman’s house and soaked a bedroom. Replacing the carpet will cost $1,185.37.

Next week: No public hearings are scheduled. The council is expected to talk about cutting surface water management fees for property owners in urban growth areas at the public works committee meeting Tuesday. The fees were raised in December, but some on the council say not enough is being spent on drainage projects. Committee meets at 3 p.m., March 16, Jackson Hearing Room, sixth floor of county administration building.

Reporter Brian Kelly covers county government for the Herald. He can be reached at 425-339-3422 or

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