Snohomish County’s 2019 budget mostly avoids new taxes

County adds sheriff’s deputies and airport firefighters, while expanding human services programs.

EVERETT — An unusually harmonious budget circle closed for Snohomish County on Monday on what elected officials considered a good note.

The County Council passed a spending plan for 2019 that provided the sheriff with five new deputies and the prosecutor with a new domestic violence investigator, while pushing forward building projects and human services programs.

“I’m just pleased with the collaborative process,” Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said after it was over.

The nearly $264 million operating budget passed unanimously, built on the framework that County Executive Dave Somers, Wright and others laid out in the months beforehand. That was a major contrast from last year, when Somers’ recommended budget underwent a major, last-minute overhaul.

“This is the first time we’ve done the budget this way,” Somers said.

The main budget passed 5-0. It includes no property tax increase for general operations.

There were some smaller points of disagreement.

The council voted 4-1 to increase the portion of property tax collected for road and bridge projects in unincorporated areas. Almost half the county’s 800,000-plus residents live outside city limits.

The 1 percent increase in the roads budget is likely to cost less than $5 next year for the owner of a house assessed at the county average of $377,600. Councilman Nate Nehring cast the no vote. Some of the roads funding will be put toward future improvements to the U.S. 2 trestle as well as the pinch point of Highway 522 and Paradise Lake Road.

Councilman Sam Low joined Nehring in voting against increasing tax collected for the conservation futures program. The 1 percent increase, which would add about 12 cents per household countywide, passed with support from the other three council members. It would bring next year’s conservation futures budget to just over $4 million.

“I do support conservation futures, I just don’t support the tax increase,” Low said.

The county’s total spending next year is due to approach $1 billion, including departments that are largely self-supported by fees and grants, as well as other special funding sources.

Some highlights for next year:

County-run Paine Field is set to add eight firefighters to prepare for service at a new passenger terminal, which could welcome its first regularly scheduled commercial flights as soon as February, subject to federal approval.

The sheriff’s office will receive funding for five new deputies, including two for a gang unit and another for traffic enforcement. The sheriff’s office as of last week had 236 budgeted deputy positions, including vacancies, said Shari Ireton, a sheriff’s spokeswoman.

The 2019 budget will allow the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to hire an investigator to focus on domestic violence cases.

“It will help us to more efficiently investigate and prosecute domestic violence crimes and it helps take the burden off our victim advocates,” prosecutor-elect Adam Cornell said.

The budget puts $2 million toward new or soon-to-be-opening programs designed to get people out of homelessness or keep them from becoming homeless. Some of that money will help operate the county diversion center that opened next to the county jail earlier this year to help steer people into longer-term services; it also will open a new one-stop hub for employment and housing at the neighboring Carnegie Library.

The budget adds $300,000 toward affordable housing programs for the homeless.

It puts $2 million toward a new sheriff’s office south precinct at Cathcart. The new building would replace a rented facility the south precinct now uses in Mill Creek and is expected to cost about $12 million, Councilman Terry Ryan said.

Some hailed the 2019 budget for what it doesn’t spend.

“The most important thing for me was to stabilize the county finances and, in the end, that’s exactly what we did,” Ryan said.

About 14 percent of the operating budget has been kept in cash reserve to help make regular payments and provide a cushion for financial dips. More than $2.5 million is in a special rainy-day fund that takes four or more council votes to spend, a system Councilman Brian Sullivan advocated creating in a past budget cycle.

Much of the public testimony ahead of the vote focused on supporting programs for small-scale forestry, water quality and other environmental priorities.

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

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