Snohomish County Council budget would spare sheriff programs

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council is set to vote next week on a budget that would spare some of the funding for sheriff’s office programs that had been on the chopping block.

Council Chairman Terry Ryan announced the new 2017 budget plan on Monday. The full council is scheduled to vote Nov. 14.

“I wanted to put out a fiscally responsible budget,” Ryan said. “That was the most important thing to me. This budget accomplishes that. It puts us on a path toward stable financial health.”

The council chairman said his proposed budget “largely mirrors” the one that county Executive Dave Somers released in September. Somers’ plan included an operating budget of about $238 million. That’s about $8 million more than the current budget, but it’s not enough to keep pace with rising salaries, benefits and other costs. It left the county about $6 million short of matching current service levels.

Law enforcement, the courts and corrections account for 75 cents of every dollar spent in the county general fund, so they were in line for a large chunk of the cuts.

The sheriff’s office stood to lose $2.4 million. Achieving those savings would have required eliminating most policing programs except for investigations, 911 response and search &rescue, Sheriff Ty Trenary said.

Trenary said Ryan’s budget would allow him to continue some programs, while others would still need to be cut. No layoffs are expected.

With the extra financial breathing room, the sheriff could continue operating the Office of Neighborhoods next year. The program teams up deputies with social workers to steer people away from addiction and homelessness, and associated crime. Ryan’s proposed budget also would allow the sheriff’s office to keep running the Violent Offender Task Force in partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service.

“I’m happy that we will be able to continue with some of the programs that we think are vital to public safety and appreciate the faith that the council is putting in us,” Trenary said.

The county’s work release program would still shut down as of Jan. 1, the sheriff said. Decisions are pending about other programs.

The biggest difference in Ryan’s budget, compared to Somers’, is a half-percent increase in the portion of the property tax that supports general county services.

Somers had proposed a 1 percent increase in the general property levy. That would add less than $3 to next year’s tax bill for a house assessed at $300,000. Ryan’s suggested increase of 1.5 percent would cost the owner of that house about $4 in added tax next year, said Chris Huyboom, a levy comptroller with the county assessor’s office.

Council members Brian Sullivan, Stephanie Wright and Hans Dunshee have suggested increasing the levy by 2 percent.

Ryan’s budget builds up cash reserves in the county operating budget to about 10.2 percent, up from 9.4 percent now. It also would establish a rainy-day fund and send an additional $24,000 to local senior centers.

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

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