EVERETT — New body cameras and helicopters. More prosecutors and judges. Added training to root out bias in county government and expanded housing choices for individuals facing homelessness.
Those are among the large cache of proposals Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers penned into his $1.25 billion spending plan for 2022, released Tuesday.
Overall, the two-term Democrat views it as a blueprint to firm up the county’s response to concerns surrounding social justice and the challenges exposed and perpetuated by the ongoing pandemic.
“Amid all these changes, we need to adapt and adjust,” Somers said in his budget address. “That is what my proposed 2022 budget does. It adapts to the present reality and ensures we can adjust for the future we want to create.”
In raw numbers, the budget proposal is 20% larger and spends $200 million more than the current budget. Of that total, about $143 million is federal and state aid related to the COVID-19 crisis, including the most recent American Rescue Plan.
A resurgent economy is projected to boost revenue to the general fund, increasing the county’s primary operating account by $24 million to a new total of $288 million.
And Somers is seeking an increase in the county’s portion of the property tax levy that would bring in a couple million dollars. Officials said the hike would cost owners of an average priced home in the county $7.39 a year. That is based on a home valued at $485,300, according to county officials.
Thus, unlike last year, when a drop primarily in retail tax collections made Somers focus on cutting costs, this time around he can spend.
Starting with public safety, which he said accounts for 75% of general fund expenditures and is “the number one priority” for county government.
Outfitting sheriff’s deputies with body cameras is a pledge Somers made last year and hopes to keep this year. There’s already a pilot effort underway.
“I made this commitment last summer, because this is one of the best ways to ensure transparency for both law enforcement and the public,” Somers said in his address, which, for the first time, was delivered via a video featuring appearances by other elected leaders, including the sheriff.
It will cost about $1.1 million — $750,000 for equipment and $401,527 to hire employees in both the Sheriff’s Office and Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to process records and requests for body-camera video.
“It is the ultimate of transparency and accountability,” Sheriff Adam Fortney says in the video. “What we’re working on is building trust in the community. I think body worn cameras will be a huge step in the right direction for us.”
Somers’ plan contains funds to hire detectives to investigate crimes against children and domestic violence. He also wants to add crime prevention officers to handle non-emergency calls, to begin the process of replacing the department’s helicopters and South Precinct and to send $3 million to Lynnwood to help that city build a new justice center.
In the court system, he is earmarking nearly $12 million to help county Prosecutor Adam Cornell and the Superior and District courts hire people to clear a backlog of cases that’s grown throughout the pandemic. Earlier this summer, the prosecutor and the courts’ presiding judges pressed the executive for such a sum. Somers is also pushing to add another Superior Court judge.
Last year, Somers got the county’s Office of Social Justice created. This year he wants to ramp up training for county employees on how to counteract bias, whether explicit or implicit, within county government.
Somers also wants to spend $10 million on extending broadband service into more of the county’s rural areas. He covers the cost with a blend of federal and local dollars.
“Our economy, health care, and education need to reach everyone, regardless of where they live, and the presence of broadband deserts is unacceptable, particularly after our experience of the last 20 months,” he said. “Our investments will ensure more parts of the county are wired.”
This idea resonates with Republican County Councilman Sam Low, whose 5th District includes many neighborhoods lacking reliable internet connectivity.
“We have areas in my district that desperately need broadband access for work, for school, for personal enjoyment and I am encouraged the executive has made this a priority in his budget,” Low says in the video.
Somers wants to combine county and federal resources to expand services and programs for those needing shelter, employment and behavioral health services.
His budget calls for creating a new Carnegie Employment Support Services program to provide low-income families a single location to go for public services and help finding a job. There’s also $10 million for creating long-term shelter and housing options in Everett, as well as in the north, south and east areas of the county. And he wants to hire more designated crisis experts to respond with law enforcement to situations involving those with behavioral health issues.
On the environmental front, Somers seeks to pour $36 million of local and federal funds into conserving agricultural lands, removing barriers to fish passage, habitat restoration and more.
Somers delivered his address in a nearly 19 minute video produced by VonJentzen Productions of Granite Falls at a cost of between $10,000 and $15,000. The video features the executive at his desk, on the street, near the Port of Everett and other places.
Release of the budget kicks off a roughly two-month process in which the County Council’s three Democrats and two Republicans will dig through, keep what they like and change what they don’t.
The process kicks off with a series of public hearings next week during which leaders of county departments make their funding pitch directly to the council.
Eventually, the council will approve its own version and send it to Somers, who will have three options — sign it, veto it or do nothing and let it take effect Jan. 1 without his signature. The county executive does not have the ability to veto individual provisions.
Jerry Cornfield: firstname.lastname@example.org; 360-352-8623