EVERETT — On Thursday afternoon, the Snohomish County Council approved its 2024 $1.6 billion budget, a more than 9% increase from 2023, when it was $1.52 billion.
From the time the budget was presented on Sept. 26, the entire process took a little more than a month.
“I think it’s noteworthy that we can all work together on behalf of the taxpayers to create a budget that serves our communities,” council Chairperson Jared Mead said in a release. “This budget cycle, we prioritized public safety, economic development, housing affordability, mental health and substance abuse care, and early learning initiatives.”
The budget is not official until 10 days after Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers signs the ordinance. The public should be able to view the budget online this week, a county spokesperson said.
There were 23 amendments to the budget proposed by Somers. Here are three of the most notable.
Property tax increase
A property tax increase was included in the executive’s initial budget.
It passed 3-2 on Nov. 8.
The vote passed along party lines — with Democrats voting for the increase and Republicans voting against.
The increase was 1%, which is the most state law allows unless a local government uses banked tax increase capacity or the tax is voted on by the public through a levy.
Council member Nate Nehring said he would be more open to the 1% increase if the county cut back on discretionary spending. He voted no on the increase, as did council member Sam Low.
“The problem here from my perspective, as has been the case each prior year, is that we continue to add ongoing spending without making the cuts that are necessary to pay for those ongoing expenses that are being added,” Nehring told council. “At the same time as we lament the fact that we are in this ongoing structural budget deficit, we continue to add this ongoing spending that only worsens that imbalance.”
Public defender positions
Eight positions in the public defender’s office are being cut, including five lawyers.
Council member Megan Dunn proposed an amendment that would have kept the current staffing level for three additional months, using money budgeted for technology upgrades.
Dunn and council member Strom Peterson supported the effort.
“I think it’s a good use of ARPA funds to continue this commitment that we made to these positions and to this department and to that work,” Dunn told council. “And we can prioritize that over a data system or software system.”
If the extra three months of funding were granted, Low said he had a “walk-on” amendment ready to use. He based this on the fact other departments were also dealing with staff reductions following ARPA money running out.
“I do have a walk-on motion that would include the other departments that are also under this funding and aren’t continuing until the rest of the year,” Low told council. “I want to make sure the courts and prosecutors office has the same positions available to them that are afforded in this amendment.”
Ending funding to the positions was always part of the plan and included in the proposed budget by the county executive’s office, said executive director Ken Klein.
“The strategy from the very beginning is to make sure that the understanding was these positions were temporary in nature and focused on only being funded by ARPA dollars,” Klein told council. “So that’s why the strategy was always said to be elimination of the funding and these positions in September to set us up so we’ll have a conversation in the next biennial budget where we talk about any positions that are needed.”
In a separate amendment, council members voted 3-2 to approve reducing the Office of Public Defender’s Conflict Panel budget by $100,000.
Council voted 4-1 to approve an amendment adding $300,000 to the entertainment budget to attract larger and more popular acts at the county fair.
The amendment was introduced by council member Low. According the amendment, the increase would be paid for by event admission fees. The Evergreen Fairgrounds Board did not send a letter in support of the amendment to council, Dunn said.
County parks staff expressed some worry with the amendment.
“While we appreciate this, I’m not sure it’s really the right time to look at putting more money at it because it would come directly from fair revenue,” county parks director Sharon Swan told council. “We’re just looking at what would be the best usage of those funds.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the origin of a property tax proposal for the county budget. It was submitted by the county executive.