Snohomish County hiring freeze proposal dropped

EVERETT — The Snohomish County councilman who tried to pass an emergency hiring freeze for county government last month has decided it’s unnecessary.

Brian Sullivan and the other four members of the council voted down the proposal Wednesday.

As it was shaping up, the freeze would have excluded about as many positions as it covered. Several department heads have made persuasive arguments about why the freeze shouldn’t apply to their staff.

And with only three months remaining in the year, it’s unclear whether an across-the-board halt to new hiring would have saved the county much money.

“I feel very confident now for the state of the budget in 2015,” Sullivan said in explaining why he changed his mind.

Sullivan’s belief that county’s finances are solid is not universally shared among his colleagues.

Recent discussions revealed that various county law-and-justice programs are on track to overspend their 2015 budget by a combined $2 million. The overruns owe mostly to unfunded mandates, higher caseloads and other circumstances beyond their control, officials say.

“That’s money we’re going to have to pay,” Council Chairman Dave Somers said.

Somers said the county’s cash reserves are low and revenues aren’t as healthy as expected.

“Every indication is that we’re going to have a really significant problem,” he said.

County Executive John Lovick, like Sullivan, has pointed to regional economic indicators to suggest that things are going well for the county’s finances.

Lovick, who is being challenged by Somers for the executive’s job in the November election, is expected to announce a budget next week.

Lovick’s proposal will go to the council for review and reworking. As far as that goes, expect a busy fall.

Last year, Lovick vetoed the council’s adopted budget. The resulting stalemate almost led to the first county-level government shutdown in state history.

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

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