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King County Executive touts 2012 budget as stable

King County Executive Dow Constantine presented his proposed 2012 budget to the King County Council, highlighting that the county has preserved service levels in many areas that were threatened in recent years by the economic downturn.

“I stood here last year, and I spoke to you about a budget I did not want to present,” Constantine said to the King County Council in a special presentation Sept. 26. “I said it was an imperfect and unpleasant budget. Our budget was a vessel that was afloat, but was at risk of being pulled under by the great recession. Today, I’ve come to these chambers with a budget of which we should all be very proud.”

Constantine credited the collaboration of King County employees, and the unions that represent them, with helping to create a more stable budget for 2012.

“We are preserving services and putting aside savings,” he said. “My proposed budget is balanced, with no further cuts to services in the general fund, by working with employees to make the government more efficient. Surrounded everywhere by seas of red ink, we have made King County an island of relative stability.”

The proposed budget totals $5.3 billion, with $648 million in the general fund.

During budget talks last year, the general fund was anticipated to have a shortfall of $20 million for 2012, something Constantine says was avoided by a mass of efficiencies created throughout King County.

The largest efficiency Constantine highlighted was health care costs for King County employees. The Executive’s office believes they have been able to save $61 million over the next two years, with $38 million in savings coming in 2012.

The county’s “Healthy IncentivesSM” program pushed county employees to get healthy and defray healthcare costs. The program was given a large chunk of credit for helping save money for 2012 and the future.

“So we have 61 million reasons to thank our employees for partnering with us to make wellness a reality for themselves and our government,” Constantine said. “Thousands of employees made a commitment to quit smoking, lose weight, to exercise more, and they succeeded.”

Savings

Constantine highlighted that the savings from health care costs helped preserve the equivalent of 12 sheriff’s deputies, seven deputy prosecutors, or 20 public health nurses.

Other efficiencies found in the proposed 2012 budget include:

• Identifying 54 county vehicles that could be eliminated, a savings in the hundreds of thousands a year, according to the Executive.

• Saving $2 million/year by consolidating office spaces.

• Consolidating all computer servers for the county into a centralized location, a savings of approximately $300,000/year.

• Consolidating the Sheriff’s Eastside precincts into a central location in Sammamish City Hall, saving $400,000/year.

• Saving $250,000 annually by moving the White Center Public Health Center to a more centralized location.

• Saving $750,000 by upgrading heating and cooling systems at the King County Courthouse and Jail.

These efficiencies have helped King County set aside a “rainy day” fund and other contingency funds, Constantine said. In his proposed budget, $2.7 million will be set aside for the rainy day fund. He hopes to set aside another $9.1 million for uncertainty in the future.

“By budgeting conservatively and well within our means, we avoid the roller coaster ride we see at the state level with every new revenue forecast,” the executive said.

Product-based budgeting; roads and transit money

A new idea Constantine is proposing in the 2012 budget is the requirement of six agencies to present a budget in a “product-based” manner. The belief is this will create greater transparency and accountability because taxpayers will have a clearer picture of just how their dollars are spent. Constantine hopes to see this policy implemented countywide within three years. A Sept. 26 press release from the executive’s office explained product based budgeting.

“Product-based budgeting looks at the specific services an agency provides as products that can be measured as, for example, the quality, quantity and the cost per unit of a trip on an Access van,” according to the executive. It also includes “the issuance of a marriage license or building permit, or the response to a 9-1-1 call.”

Constantine warned that two areas will still need critical examination: human services and roads and transportation. The executive said the continuing issues with the state budget may lead to more cuts in human services. He said the state’s uncertainty when funding public transportation and roads will lead to a shifting transportation landscape for King County.

Keeping afloat

Outside of that, Constantine reinforced his message that continued exploration for efficiencies and cooperation among government and labor are the keys to keeping King County afloat in these difficult times.

“To become a truly sustainable government, we must do these two things. We must keep creating new efficiencies each year, every year, to provide the same level of service at three percent less cost. Second, we must work closely with labor and health care providers to keep bending that cost trend towards affordability.”

To learn more on the proposed budget, visit kingcounty.gov/budget.

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