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King County wants your input for chopping block; 39 parks will lose funding

King County officials are asking residents to prioritize the county's public services.

Citizens have until the end of the month to participate in the Countywide Strategic Plan. The goal is to include the public in the county's decision-making process.

King County Executive Kurt Triplett and King County Council members will refer to the plan as a guide in establishing the budget through 2015. King County is facing a $56.4 million general fund budget shortfall in 2010.

Triplett, who took his position in May following former executive Ron Sims' swearing-in as Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has already begun drafting the 2010 budget and cutting services.

On Aug. 17, he announced a $4.6 million savings will come from eliminating funding for 39 parks — all located in unincorporated areas. Five Mile Lake Park and Lake Geneva Park, both located in Federal Way's east annexation area, are among the recreation spaces that will see their county funding stripped in 2010. A $16.6 million slash in overhead, administrative and general government services is also part of the proposed 2010 budget. The cut impacts staffing in King County offices, including that of the executive.

The county provides services to approximately 1.9 million people, residing in 39 cities. Services include transportation, public health, community and social services, courts, jails, prosecutors, public defenders, King County International Airport, public safety, roads and garbage collection.

Due to the county's continual budget shortfall, cuts to some services are necessary. The strategic plan is an effort to address the shortage of funds and establish a method to deliver effective, efficient and accountable services, according to a King County Web page titled "Countywide Strategic Plan." It is the first plan of its kind in King County.

Public outreach

The plan is also an opportunity for King County residents to have a say in which services are retained. Residents may participate in the plan by taking an online survey or submitting online feedback. Materials will be presented to the county council as a resource, meant to guide the final budget decisions. The survey is proving useful as Triplett is now preparing the budget for the county council's review.

"It's already giving us quite a bit of insight into what people's priorities are," said Natasha Jones, King County Executive deputy communications director.

Those priorities vary from across the county, she said. Some people wish to preserve parks. Others feel mental health services, for instance, are too valuable to let slip, Jones said.

Personal sacrifices

Nearly 75 percent of the county's budget provides criminal justice functions. Each year, offering those services becomes more expensive, Jones said. The strategic plan is an opportunity for residents to learn more about the services the county offers, as well as let officials know which services citizens are willing to give up in sacrifice of public safety, for example.

"There's no right answer," Jones said. "It's just what do people prefer?"

A draft plan has a scheduled September release. A finalized effort is expected in December. The plan ought to guide whomever is chosen as the county's new executive, Jones said.

Get involved in the Countywide Strategic Plan

• Visit the County's Web page or call (206) 263-9703 for more information.

• Submit feedback at the same site.

• Take a survey regarding public services at kingcountysurvey.com.

Learn more

King County's total 2009 budget is $4.9 billion. The General Fund ($644.1 million in 2009) represents roughly 13 percent of the county's total budget. This money is used for the county’s criminal justice functions, general government functions, including elections, and contributions to public health and human services, according to a summary report found here. Non-general funds pay for items such as roads, wastewater treatment and the county's payroll, according to the site. These cannot be used to fund general fund actions. To learn more about the county's funding system and budget, read the five-page summary report.

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