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County budget cuts threaten services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault

A coalition of advocates for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence are calling on the King County Council to restore nearly $850,000 in human-services cuts in the proposed 2011 county budget.

The coalition includes the Renton-based King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC), DAWN or Domestic Abuse Women's Network and the Eastside Domestic Violence Program.

Last year, the King County Council restored some funding for human-services agencies that county Executive Kurt Triplett had cut. This year the county is facing a cut of $60 million in its general-fund budget.

The lion's share of the current cuts – $795,257 – proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine is for domestic violence survivor services ($637,101) and for sexual assault victim services ($158,156.)

Constantine must give top priority to criminal-justice services that are required by law, said his spokesman, Frank Abe. Assistance for survivors of domestic violence or victims of sexual assault is not legally required, he said.

"We are not doing right by the most vulnerable, but we are in a position where the things we know we should do have to be sacrificed to preserve the things we’re required to do," said Abe.

Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone said KCSARC would have to reduce services agencywide in order to handle the loss of the nearly $160,000. The money the county eliminates goes toward the agency's legal advocacy program, which helps the victims of sexual assault and their families navigate the legal system.

The legal advocacy program is often is the key to a victim coming forward to report a crime.

"This ends up being a public-safety issue," Stone said, adding the agency can't absorb the cut.

The King County Council will hold four public hearings on the 2011 county budget proposal. The one meeting in South King County is Oct. 19 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center, Jury Assembly Room 2E, 401 Fourth Ave. N., Kent. It starts at 6:30 p.m.

King County has been reducing its support of human services in its general fund for several years, which at one point was about $26 million. This final cut removes all general fund money would for human services.

Stone said the county has cut funding for domestic-violence programs by 35 percent in the three years and cut sexual assault funding by 20 percent.

"These funding cuts will mean that more families and children will not receive services," she said.

Already, KCSARC turns away six victims for every one it serves, she said.

"How many more children must go without the counseling they need to recover from a sexual assault?" Stone asked.

The human-services agencies are advocating for passage of Proposition 1, which would increase the county's sales tax by two-tenths of a cent. The money would help fund the criminal justice system; some of the money would help such agencies as KCSARC backfill the money lost to county budget cuts.

A voter-approved, property-tax hike to help pay human services and veterans assistance includes money specifically for people with mental health issues or are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

KCSARC has 35 full-time employees, providing direct services in such areas as therapy, legal advocacy and parent support. It offers a resource line and educational services.

This year's budget is about $3 million; typically, it's closer to $2.5 million.

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