King County Executive wants public safety tax increase on August ballot

King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed an August ballot measure to preserve current levels of public health and safety. The proposed ordinance would put a two-tenths of one percent local option sales tax for criminal justice and related services before voters. Forty percent of the revenues would be distributed to local cities, with King County’s share of the revenue at about $47 million in 2011.

Is this a case of the County Executive exercising prudent fiscal management? Or is this a maneuver to avoid making difficult budget cuts and a relinquishment of government's primary function: preserving the public's safety? In August, the voters will decide.

The following is the news release from King County:

Current levels of public safety and health

would be preserved under measure proposed to

King County Council for August primary

Voters would have choice of where to set level of services

Voters would have the choice of keeping current levels of critical public safety and health services under a proposed August ballot measure sent today to the King County Council by Executive Dow Constantine.

“I have pledged to bring down the cost of government over time and give voters the choice of where to set the starting point for criminal justice and related services for next year,” said Executive Constantine. “If voters approve, the County will be able to preserve the current level of critical public safety and health services. If voters do not approve, they will have chosen a lower level of these services.”

“We must address both our current budget crisis, through a proposal for maintaining criminal justice services, and our long-term structural gap, by decreasing labor costs and implementing operational efficiencies,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson, chair of the Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee. “We cannot cut our Sheriff, our courts, and our prosecutors by up to 12 percent next year without giving the voters an opportunity weigh in on saving systems and services we have in place to keep people safe.”

“After cutting more than $140 million to the general fund over the last two years, the County is facing continued budget challenges,” said Council Chair Bob Ferguson. “This proposal will provide voters the opportunity to determine the level of public safety services they want in King County. The intent is to submit this to the voters for the August ballot in advance of the Council’s budget deliberations.”

Under one of the few remaining potential revenue sources authorized for counties under state law, the proposed ordinance would put a two-tenths of one percent local option sales tax for criminal justice and related services before voters. Forty percent of the revenues would be distributed to local cities, with King County’s share of the revenue at about $47 million in 2011. Voters in five other counties have approved this tax at rates ranging from one-tenth to three-tenths of one percent.

“In difficult economic times, it is only right to get the citizens' input on the level of services they want and are able to pay for,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, Vice Chair of the Council Budget Committee. “The county already has cut $150 million over the past few years to stay 'within our means.' Retaining current levels of public safety service will require additional revenue to keep up with inflation. Local governments are capped at about a 1-percent property tax increase each year, so we want to hear from the citizens whether they prefer to increase revenue or if they prefer additional cuts."

“This is a critical opportunity for citizens to decide on priorities and give them choices about funding our most important services,” said Councilmember Jan Drago.

“In this time of economic crisis, it is difficult to ask the voters to step up to the plate,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett.  “However, if we do not have another source of revenue, the services that we must cut will be devastating, especially to the poor and disadvantaged. And in the long run, if we are not able to get the public to support a revenue increase, it will only result in increases in the cost of running our criminal justice system beyond what it costs us now.”

Counties across the state face a built-in gap between property tax revenues limited to growth of 1 percent per year plus the revenue from new construction, and background inflation of around 3 percent.

Criminal justice officials warned the Council’s budget committee on April 14 that the roughly 10- to 15-percent reductions that will be needed to close a roughly $60 million general fund gap for 2011 could lead to the elimination of District Court probation services, reduced capacity for criminal investigations, and the elimination of sheriff's deputies.

“I want the opportunity through this process to have a conversation with the residents of unincorporated King County about preserving their basic public safety,” said Sheriff Sue Rahr. “We have cut 96 positions in the past three years. We have reorganized, reprioritized and eliminated services and operations to meet budget reductions. We continue to aggressively look for and implement cost-saving measures. However, a proposed 12 percent cut for 2011 in unincorporated King County would force the elimination of about 80 more positions and severely cripple basic law enforcement services—from burglary and all property crime investigations to the neighborhood deputies who respond to those crimes.”

Prosecutor Satterberg noted, "This is the only tool the Legislature gave to help counties avoid disastrous cuts.  It gives voters the choice to preserve essential public safety and criminal justice programs and will increase safety in every city and every neighborhood throughout the County."

“If passed by the voters of King County, the Superior Court will use the new sales tax revenues to keep family court services, preserve the nationally recognized Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA) for child abuse cases, and to maintain an adequate level of probation supervision for juvenile cases,” said King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer. “In the King County Clerk’s office, the new funds will preserve staff to answer questions on the telephone and to fund domestic violence protection services. Absent these new sales tax revenues, additional budget cuts would severely reduce our Court’s ability to fairly and efficiently administer justice in King County.”

“Evidence shows that supervision of offenders is a key component in effective sentencing practices,” said King County District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde. “The extreme and drastic cuts facing the County would mean that repeat drunk drivers and domestic violence offenders would go without supervision. The likely result would be increased recidivism that threatens public safety in the communities and further burdens the jails and courts.”

Among the most significant public safety and health services that would be preserved:

  • Retain as many as 82 positions in the King County Sheriff’s Office that are dedicated to protecting our community. By preserving these positions, the Sheriff’s Office will be able to continue to investigate property crimes; provide School Resource Officers to 11 schools; provide storefront deputies who are key points of contact with neighborhoods; participate in regional crime, drug, and homeland security task forces; maintain current levels of investigation for homicides and other major crimes including sexual assaults and domestic violence; and provide specialized services such as the Bomb Squad, Marine Patrol, fire investigation, and animal cruelty investigation.
  • Preserve the equivalent of 36 deputy prosecuting attorneys (DPAs) in the Prosecutor’s Office, which represents two-thirds of Civil Division DPAs, or all criminal DPAs assigned to Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC), or all DPAs assigned to Special Assault Unit and Domestic Violence Units.
  • Retain Superior Court programs designed to reduce recidivism, assist court litigants, help crime victims, and ensure a smoothly functioning justice system. For example, over 75 percent of family law litigants do not have lawyers to help them through their divorce, child support or custody cases, and the Family Court facilitators who would continue to be available if this proposal is approved help people navigate these legal processes.
  • Preserve District Court programs, such as Probation Services, that help to reduce the number of people involved in court matters and ensure that those who are sentenced receive appropriate supervision.
  • Preserve significant programs in alternatives to detention for both juveniles and adults. These programs assist people in obtaining life skills to reduce recidivism, provide community work crews, assist offenders in meeting their community service hours, and reduce other costs in the criminal justice system.
  • Retain the ability of police agencies to book and transfer inmates at the MRJC.  Closing the MRJC for intake and transfer would require south county police agencies to drive to Seattle to book inmates, which would reduce the time officers spend patrolling the streets of their communities.
  • Preserve seven day a week animal control services by maintaining a second animal control officer in each control district.

  • Retain key services Public Health provides to the public.  The funding would preserve the current level of therapy to ensure tuberculosis patients take their medicine as scheduled, and will enable the Medical Examiner’s Office to continue to make determinations of the cause and manner of death and conduct autopsies in a timely fashion so as not to unduly delay releasing remains to next of kin.
  • Preserve funding for the Children and Family Commission, which provides grants to non-profit organizations that work to ensure safe communities and healthy families.
  • Maintain critical support to the County’s public health centers and the services they provide to the public, especially to mothers and children.
  • Continue General Fund support to human services such as Domestic Violence Survivor Services, Sexual Assault Victim Services, Senior Centers in unincorporated areas, and programs for youth (including homeless youth) involved in the criminal justice system.

As political subdivisions of the state, counties rely on the Legislature for revenue authority, and the local option sales tax for criminal justice is one of the few remaining revenue sources authorized. The total cost per resident is projected to be about $40 in 2011.

Patterson said she has scheduled a first public hearing on the ballot measure in her Budget and Fiscal Management Committee for tomorrow, Thursday, April 28, at 1:30 p.m. The deadline to place measures on the August ballot is May 25.

See this release and details of the proposed legislation and financial spreadsheets at:

http://www.kingcounty.gov/exec/news/release/2010/April/28proposedBallotMeasure.aspx

ATTACHMENT A

Total: $42.5 million of General Fund programs in 2011

Agency data below are estimated impacts to expenditures supported by the General Fund. Some programs of the District Court, Office of Emergency Management, and the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention generate revenue that will partially offset the impact to the General Fund.

PUBLIC SAFETY

King County Sheriff's Office: $9.5 million in 2011

Retain as many as 82 positions that are dedicated to protecting our community. By preserving these positions, the Sheriff's Office will be able to continue to investigate property crimes; provide School Resource Officers to 11 schools; provide storefront deputies who are key points of contact with neighborhoods; participate in regional crime, drug, and homeland security task forces; maintain current levels of investigation for homicides and other major crimes including sexual assaults, and domestic violence; and provide specialized services such as the Bomb Squad, Marine Patrol, fire investigation, and animal cruelty investigation.

Prosecuting Attorney's Office: $5.0 million in 2011

Preserve the equivalent of 36 deputy prosecuting attorneys (DPAs), which represents two-thirds of Civil Division DPAs, or all criminal DPAs assigned to Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC), or all DPAs assigned to Special Assault Unit and Domestic Violence Units. Preserving this level of service would maintain the region's responsiveness to crime, provide prosecutorial services to inform the courts to prevent the release of dangerous felons, and ensure the rights of victims are maintained.

Office of the Public Defender: $4.3 million in 2011

Preserve the equivalent of 21 defense attorneys and supervisors and 14 support staff. These positions are integral to providing a fair and just court system. The U.S. Constitution mandates that anyone not able to afford an attorney be provided one, as such the court system cannot function without public defense.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Superior Court: $4.3 million in 2011

Retain programs designed to reduce recidivism, assist court litigants, help crime victims, and ensure a smoothly functioning justice system. Over 75 percent of family law litigants do not have lawyers to help them through their divorce, child support or custody cases, and Family Court facilitators help people navigate the legal process. Other programs that would be preserved could include juvenile offender supervision, which uses programs proven effective to reduce juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system; and attorneys and supervisors who assist citizen advocates who volunteer to represent the best interests of abused children in dependency cases.

Department of Judicial Administration: $2.0 million in 2011

Preserve nationally-recognized programs and current levels of customer service to avoid lengthy delays in responding to public requests for information. For example, the Step Up program, the only domestic violence program in King County dedicated to addressing teen violence against parents would be preserved. Current hours of operation and level of staffing at the Clerk's Office would be retained and long waits for service minimized.

District Court: $2.0 million in 2011

Preserve programs, such as Probation Services, that are key components of the criminal justice system. These programs help to reduce the number of people involved in court matters and ensure that those who are sentenced receive appropriate supervision.

Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention: $4.7 million in 2011

Preserve significant programs in alternatives to detention for both juveniles and adults. These programs assist people in obtaining life skills to reduce recidivism, provide community work crews, assist offenders in meeting their community service hours, and reduce other costs in the criminal justice system. Also, retain the ability of police agencies to book and transfer inmates at the MRJC. Closing the MRJC for intake and transfer would require south county police agencies to drive to Seattle to book inmates, which would reduce the time officers spend patrolling the streets of their communities.

Jail Health Services (JHS): $1.5 million in 2011

Preserve the current level of services to the sick and mentally ill within the county's jail population. JHS provides medical, dental, and mental health services to people incarcerated in county jails. These services include screening for medical conditions at booking, psychiatric treatment, and treatment and monitoring for chronic conditions and are essential elements of a safe and humane jail system.

GENERAL GOVERNMENT

Defer Major Maintenance of Facilities: $1.3 million in 2011

Preserve major maintenance for county facilities, such as plumbing and wall finishes on a schedule that allows for optimum life of public assets.

Animal Control: $0.8 million

Preserve seven day a week animal control services by maintaining a second animal control officer in each control district. Include funding for dedicated staff and resources in the Sheriff's Office to conduct animal cruelty investigations.

Other Entities: $0.7 million in 2011

Retain services such as the printed versions of the Voters Pamphlet, assistance to rural property owners with development proposals and code compliance, and security screening at all current entrances to the King County Courthouse.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

Public Health--Seattle & King County: $3.3 million in 2011

Retain key services Public Health provides to the public. The funding would preserve the current level of therapy to ensure tuberculosis patients take their medicine as scheduled, and will enable the Medical Examiner's Office to continue to make determinations of the cause and manner of death and conduct autopsies in a timely fashion so as not to unduly delay releasing remains to next of kin. Preserve funding for the Children and Family Commission, which provides grants to non-profit organizations that work to ensure safe communities and healthy families. Maintain critical support to the county's public health centers and the services they provide to the public, especially to mothers and children.

Department of Community and Human Services: $3.2 million in 2011

Allow for the continuation of General Fund support to human services such as Domestic Violence Survivor Services, Sexual Assault Victim Services, Senior Centers in unincorporated areas, and programs for youth (including homeless youth) involved in the criminal justice system. These programs provide direct services to people who have been victims of crime or young people who are at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system as adults. These services help reduce the number of people involved in the criminal justice system in the long run.

Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) Supplantation: $5 million in 2013, $10 million in 2014, and $16 million in 2015

Enable the county to maintain the services temporarily shifted to the MIDD fund in the 2010 Adopted Budget. Programs such as Adult and Juvenile Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Criminal Justice Initiatives are designed to address the underlying reasons people become involved in the criminal justice system. Under state law, the authority to use MIDD revenue to fund these programs (supplant) will ramp down starting in 2013. New sales tax revenue will enable the county to preserve these programs as MIDD revenues become unavailable.

EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

Office of Emergency Management: $0.2 million in 2011

Preserve the county's preparedness for disaster response by maintaining programs and staff that provide an emergency notification system and emergency collaboration.

Source: King County