King County slices millions of dollars from public safety budget

Top King County officials warned June 5 that public safety and criminal justice will take a hit beginning in 2009, when the county expects a $68 million General Fund shortfall.

The rising cost to provide county services, paired with insufficient revenue, has caused the county to enforce an 8.6 percent budget cut to the criminal justice system beginning in 2009. The cuts are expected to prevail through 2012. King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer and King County District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde met June 5 to discuss, at a press conference, how the deficit will affect public safety and the county's residents.

Seventy-one percent of the county's General Fund is used for criminal justice and public safety measures, said Larry Phillips, D-District 4. Phillips is a Metropolitan King County Council member and chair of the council’s 2009 Budget Review and Adoption Committee.

The county experienced budget cuts in 2002. County officials thought the deficit gap was closed after this, but that was not the case. The only areas left to scale back now are criminal justice and public safety, Phillips said.

"(The deficit) is back with a vengeance, and now we don't have low-hanging fruit to cut," he said.

Some court programs will be decreased and misdemeanor crimes deferred to lower courts. Prosecutors will be harder to come by and police response times in unincorporated King County could be affected by 2010. Workloads will increase and staff will decrease.

"The four-year outlook is really awful if we are not able to find relief," Phillips said.

For the complete story, see The Mirror on Saturday, June 7.

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