Staffers seek what cuts took

  • By Jeff Switzer and Scott North / Herald Writers
  • Sunday, September 18, 2005 9:00pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Millions of dollars in cuts made last year in Snohomish County’s “tough medicine” budget appear to be taking their toll.

Tales of burnout, injuries and fear of failure to meet legal requirements are outlined in volumes of budget requests from county department heads for 2006.

To reverse those challenges, officials are asking for better technology, more dog catchers, more prosecutors, jail workers, accident investigators and sheriff’s deputies. Some are new workers; others are back-filling cuts from previous years.

In all, county departments say they need $204.2 million in taxes in 2006 to pay for salaries and programs, according to documents obtained by The Herald.

Trouble is, that’s $20 million more than the county has to spend.

County Executive Aaron Reardon on Sept. 30 plans to announce how he thinks the county should spend an estimated $183.1 million expected next year in taxpayer money.

“There are those in government who think (taxes are) their personal money, but it’s not their money,” Reardon said. “When they ask for more than we have, it’s my job to let them know why they can’t have it.”

Just a year ago, the county slashed $13.4 million in jobs and programs to stop the red ink from flowing, Reardon said.

“We operate in an environment where taxpayers make decisions on how much money government is going to have, and we have to provide the services,” Reardon said.

Reardon said department heads must compete for the limited tax dollars available to the county in 2006.

Those needs are spelled out in 782 pages of department requests for the 2006 budget, which show services needed by managers and employees on the front lines.

Reardon said he scrutinized each of the spending proposals. The cases being made for some additional workers appeared “exaggerated or embellished,” he said.

“There is a bit of ‘the sky falling’ in those proposals,” Reardon said. “That was there last year as well. It didn’t happen last year, it’s not going to happen next year.”

Prosecuting Attorney Janice Ellis was among those who didn’t convince Reardon. She sought a 14 percent increase in spending. The money would pay for 16 additional employees, a third of whom would have restored prosecutors and support staff eliminated in previous budget cuts.

“I try not to overstate things,” Ellis said. “I am alarmed. We need people in the criminal division. We need attorneys. We need support staff. We can’t do the job that the community expects if we don’t have support in the budget.”

Reardon’s budget will not recommend adding more prosecutors, Ellis said. Two victim-advocate positions have been offered, but part of the money for their salaries would be bled from other places within the prosecutor’s office budget, she said.

Her staff pointed out that in 1999 there were 43 deputy prosecutors handling 4,700 felony cases. Last year, 40 deputy prosecutors shouldered 6,700 felony cases.

Ellis said she now plans to take her case to the County Council.

2006 is considered a tight budget year. Though revenues are $9.4 million higher than in 2005, new unions contracts for county employees will cost millions of dollars in salaries and medical benefits.

The tighter the budget, the more departments must compete, Reardon said.

Some, including the finance department, reported that having too few workers was causing burnout that could lead to errors. Reardon disagreed.

“We’re not burning out staff and not burning out people,” Reardon said.

He said he is working to change the culture of county spending while seeking efficiencies. Most of the proposals are heartfelt, Reardon said.

“We have county employees who want to do a good job for the citizens we represent,” he said.

Corrections director Steve Thompson asked for a 16 percent increase in funding, up to $37.5 million.

The main jail needs about 16 additional employees next year, including eight guards, according to officials. The county added 69 corrections workers last year for the new jail.

Labor contracts and medical costs are prime drivers of his department’s cost increase, Thompson said. The jail once was the county’s biggest overtime drain. Under Thompson, overtime spending at the corrections department now trails the sheriff’s office and public works department.

Sheriff Rick Bart sought a 16 percent increase over 2005 spending. The request was in sharp contrast to last year, when Bart responded to Reardon’s calls for belt-tightening by demanding money to hire 97 more deputies at an estimated $17.1 million.

This year “we pared our list down to what we felt was critical staff to reasonably do our job,” said Kevin Prentiss, chief of operations at the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s proposed budget would add money to improve accident investigations, which contribute to the department’s growing overtime spending.

A concerted pitch also was made to maximize the department’s use of technology to save labor and fight crime. One proposal would allow deputies to issue tickets using small computers, allowing data to be captured more efficiently. The department also suggested spending to enhance its use of genetic evidence and to make better use of fingerprints.

There is a backlog of 400 cases where fingerprints were recovered, but are still waiting processing by the sheriff’s office.

“It is likely that examination of those 400 cases would identify several suspects and facilitate their arrest and prosecution,” the department’s budget writers told Reardon. “There is a concern of due diligence liability for the county should one of those unidentified suspects victimize another citizen while we had evidence in our possession that could have removed them from the street.”

Prentiss said the sheriff’s office recognizes it will have to seek state and federal grants to pay for programs it considers critical. Still, the budget outlook isn’t entirely bleak.

“While there are some things we would have liked to see included in the (executive’s budget), we are not terribly disappointed,” Prentiss said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist identified in fatal crash near Lake Stevens

Anthony Palko, 33, died Monday night after colliding with a passenger car. The juveniles in the car were taken to the hospital.

Marysville
Police: Marysville man shot sword-wielding roommate in self-defense

The roommates were arguing over eBay sales, according to police. Then one of them allegedly brandished a two-foot sword.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Everett boy, 12, identified as Davies Beach drowning victim

Malachi Bell was one of three swimmers in distress Sunday in Lake Stevens. He did not survive.

Everett
Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

People gather to watch the Thunder on the Bay Fireworks from Legion Memorial Park on Wednesday, July 4, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Festivities abound in Snohomish County this Fourth of July

Here’s where to find local parades, street fairs and fireworks shows.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, gets the first shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, from Elizabeth Smalley, right, a medical assistant at a Sea Mar Community Health Center in Olympia, Wash. Inslee's wife Trudi also received the first dose of the vaccine. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Governor wants to make vaccine mandate permanent for new hires

Jay Inslee also wants to require current and future state employees keep up with their shots, if they want to keep their jobs.

Sandra Oleson, center, holds up a “Protect Our Rights” sign and shouts for support from passing vehicles during a protest against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24, 2022, along Broadway in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Biden assures Inslee of federal support to preserve abortion access

In the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturning, the president and nine Democrat governors swapped strategies Friday.

Tulalip council members and tribal members watch as Governor Jay Inslee signs bill HB 1571 into law at the Tulalip Resort on Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Tulalip, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington launches new Indigenous missing person alert system

It’s similar to an Amber Alert. Tulalip families of the missing have called the program a good first step.

Jenson Hankins address the court during his resentencing at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Thursday, June 30, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Man gets reduced sentence for 2003 Marysville ambush murder

“I’ve wanted to apologize for a long time,” said Jenson Hankins, who was 16 when he killed John Jasmer near Marysville.

Most Read