Snohomish County budget spares cuts to safety programs

EVERETT — A united Snohomish County Council passed a budget Monday that staves off most public safety cuts with help from a modest property-tax increase.

The spending plan for 2017 followed the contours that council Chairman Terry Ryan had recommended a week earlier. Ryan’s budget, in turn, hewed closely to a $238 million plan that Executive Dave Somers unveiled in September, though the council softened cuts to key sheriff’s office programs.

“We were dealing with a $7 million deficit,” Ryan said Monday. “We were able to come up with a fiscally responsible budget and avoid layoffs.”

The plan passed 5-0. It includes about 2,860 budgeted positions and $887 million in total programs.

The most obvious difference from Somers’ budget was increasing the executive’s proposed 1 percent hike in the the county’s general levy. The 1.5 percent bump that council passed should generate nearly $1.3 million in new revenue. It would cost the owner of a $300,000 house about $4 in extra property taxes next year.

Sheriff Ty Trenary said the council’s budget would help him save two major programs that would have gone away under Somers’ initial plan: the Office of Neighborhoods, which focuses on addressing drug addiction and associated crimes, as well as the sheriff’s Violent Offender Task Force, a partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service.

The council also approved adding an additional deputy to support the Office of Neighborhoods.

The sheriff still must make sacrifices. A work-release program is set to expire at the end of the year to save $1.3 million, but it could re-emerge in some form.

“I see this as an opportunity for us to examine this program and, at some point in the future, bring back a unit that may better serve the community, the courts and our inmates,” Trenary said in an email to law enforcement and corrections staff.

About three-quarters of the county’s discretionary spending goes toward cops, courts and corrections.

The approved budget includes a few initiatives from departing Councilman Hans Dunshee, who lost an election last week. The measures seek to combat opioid abuse and related problems.

The new budget sets aside $50,000 to help code enforcement staff seal off vacant properties to try to discourage vandalism and squatters.

The council also opted to increase employee parking rates in the county garage by $8 per month, or about 12 percent. The money collected should help the county raise $200,000 next year toward converting part of the county’s under-used Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett into a recovery program for addicts. The money would pay for an architectural study for the project and start saving for construction. Dunshee said he hoped to attract state grants.

“The money will show the Legislature that we have skin in the game,” he said.

It passed 3-2, with Ryan and Councilman Ken Klein opposed. Ryan said he wants to do more to help people escape addiction, but would prefer a different funding source than the parking garage. Council members Brian Sullivan and Stephanie Wright voted with Dunshee.

The council also tasked the executive’s office with studying ways to start a temporary shelter program to provide short-term housing to the homeless.

On a separate front, the council capped the school impact fees that developers must pay for new construction. Council members ordered the planning department to look at preventing rapid increases in the future.

The new limit, which passed with full council support, is $7,000 per new single-family home next year. The move came in response to the Northshore School District, which has been racing to keep up with an influx of new students from recently constructed neighborhoods around Mill Creek and Bothell. Northshore sought to collect more than $10,000 per new single-family home next year, up from nothing now. The next-highest school district was Everett, with a fee of just under $7,000.

Mike Pattison, a lobbyist for the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, said the sudden fee increase would be unfair to homebuilders who had bought land and embarked on projects, without factoring in the unexpected costs.

In other areas, the budget increases cash reserves needed for financial liquidity.

Senior centers around the county are set to receive a combined $24,000 in new funding.

All signs are the county’s final spending plan will stick.

Deputy Executive Marcia Isenberg said Somers’ administration enjoyed good lines of communication with the council while working through the budget, something that hasn’t always happened in years past.

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

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