Snohomish County’s budget surpasses $1 billion this year

The plan reverses a 2-gram threshold for felony drug prosecutions and adds to the rainy-day fund.

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council has passed its first $1 billion budget. The county supports the sheriff’s office, airport, public utilities, human services, and roads and bridges among other things.

The spending plan includes money to reverse a 2-gram threshold for felony drug prosecutions and bulk up the county’s rainy-day fund. It was approved by a 4-1 vote Tuesday, with Councilmember Stephanie Wright the lone dissenter.

“It’s a fiscally responsible budget, with a 0% property tax increase,” said County Council Chairman Terry Ryan.

In September, County Executive Dave Somers presented his budget plan which the council then tweaked.

Somers’ proposed 2020 budget left unfunded a request from Prosecuting Attorney Adam Cornell for resources to prosecute lower-level drug cases. He did add money for a study to take “a holistic look at our justice system” for programs providing the greatest benefit.

The council took a different course, adding $430,000 for Cornell’s Innovative Justice Program which will allow the prosecution of felony drug cases below the 2-gram limit, which went into effect last year.

“The council felt it was very important to fund the prosecuting attorney’s 2-gram rule first thing in January,” Ryan said. “That’s going to make our streets safer.”

The funds will pay for a new deputy prosecutor, a law clerk and a public defender to screen cases as part of a diversion program for those willing to seek help with substance abuse and other problems. Those unwilling or unable to get treatment could face jail or prison time.

Wright proposed funding a community court with some of the money set aside for the law and justice study, but the amendment failed to garner enough votes. Councilmembers Nate Nehring, Sam Low and Ryan wanted to see results from the study before moving forward with a community court.

To prepare for the possibility of an economic downturn the council bolstered the rainy-day fund, adding $600,000 to the $1 million Somers recommended. By the end of 2020, $4.2 million would be socked away in the emergency fund, Ryan said.

The budget funds long-planned projects including a new sheriff’s office precinct at Cathcart to replace current space in Mill Creek and converting an underused part of the Denney Juvenile Justice Center in Everett into a substance-abuse treatment facility.

It also includes pushing forward with a multimillion-dollar estuary restoration project at Meadowdale Beach County Park.

Money for a severe weather shelter for people experiencing homelessness is also in the budget.

For the third year in a row, there’s no increase in the county’s general property tax levy.

“I’m proud to support a budget for Snohomish County that doesn’t increase the general property tax levy, because the recent election showed there’s a lot of voter fatigue,” Nehring said. “And I think it’s important that elected officials on every level take note of that tax fatigue voters are facing.”

Though the portion of property tax that pays for road work will increase by 1% for people in unincorporated areas.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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