Hutchison outlines county budget priorities
September 28, 2009 · 11:20 AM
Susan Hutchison addressed how she intends to govern as King County executive and outlined a multi-tiered set of budget priorities during a morning radio station interview.
While the 2010 budget currently under consideration will be approved by the council before the next Executive takes office, Hutchison noted her plan is designed to give voters an understanding of how she would set priorities and effectively manage King County revenue.
Susan stressed that for the past several years, King County government has engaged in a practice of reckless spending and unsustainable budgets. Consequently, King County residents are now paying the price in the form of less public safety, the closing of neighborhood parks, and fewer services.
“I have budget priorities for us to follow that are different from my opponent and my predecessor,” Hutchison said.
While facing one of the toughest budgets in county history, Hutchison complimented current Executive Kurt Triplett for making the tough choices in impossible times. As executive, Hutchison noted she would refocus county government on the core mandates as set by the state – public safety, law and justice, public health, and unincorporated services.
Hutchison also stated she would implement zero-base budgeting and look towards comparable county and state models throughout the United States to evaluate King County’s operating structure, budget process, and operating costs.
Hutchison's plan also specified where she would make administrative cuts in our overgrown County Council staff – which despite dropping from 13 to 9 members in 2004, maintained its original budget.
Additionally, Hutchison promoted annexation of our remaining urban unincorporated areas and suggested embracing new tools and partnerships to keep parks and mental health services open and available.
Hutchison's complete plan can be viewed below and online at www.SusanHutchison.com.
Hutchison's budget priorities
Prioritization and efficiency
Set budget priorities that recognize the core mandates of county government as set by the state: Public Safety, law and justice, public health, and unincorporated services.
Implement zero-base budgeting. County government has grown because officials have often used pre-set formulas to cut or add funds to a department’s budgets. These top-down budgeting strategies are imprecise and fail to address the core needs of a department.
My administration will use a bottom up approach to budgeting, by taking a fresh look at the costs of providing essential services.
Use benchmarks from comparable county and state models to evaluate King County’s operating structure, budget process, and operating costs.
Thoughtful, targeted cuts
Implement reductions in government overhead and administrative costs by:
Implementing a true County-wide hiring freeze for all general fund or distressed enterprise funds except for critical positions in law, justice, and public safety.
Reducing the County Executive’s front office budget of over $4 million by 18% while cutting the number of full time employees from 25 to 21, for a savings of $730,000.
Proposing cuts of up to 5% in all other general fund and distressed accounts; a 12% reduction in each County Councilmember’s $628,000 office budget; and a 6% reduction in the $9.3 million Council Administration budget. An imprecise slashing strategy that treats all departments identically is the same 30,000 foot approach to budgeting that allowed the deficit to grow out of control.
We cannot afford or accept any cuts that take patrol officers off the streets or force prosecutors to drop cases because the county coffers are low.
Conducting a review of all outbound printed brochures and publications by all King County offices to crack down on unnecessary postage, production and communications expenses.
Snohomish and Pierce County spend about $5.14 per resident on County Council operations, or roughly 1.6 percent of those counties’ general fund. King County spends over $8 per resident on operating the County Council; over 2.3 percent of the county’s general fund. A county of our size should be seeing the benefits of economies of scale; instead we are seeing a top-heavy government with structural waste and inefficiency.
When the voters reduced the number of members from 13 to 9 in 2004, the overall budget stayed the same.
County Councilmember offices spent close to $1 million for brochure printing and mailing expenses since 2007.
Encourage Annexation of our remaining urban unincorporated areas by:
Working with the legislature to continue tax incentives to cities with unincorporated Potential Annexation Areas.
Last session the legislature approved an extension to the toolbox of existing incentives. Cities looking to annex areas in excess of 4,000 residents may retain a portion of the sales tax collected in their city to cover any operational deficits from providing service to annexed residents.
Revising the existing 2012 annexation completion plan and work with cities to develop a reasonable and attainable annexation timeline.
Restoring annexation planners to help facilitate the annexation process.
There are two annexations and one incorporation on the November ballot. If approved, only five of the major potential annexation areas will remain: North Highline, Eastgate, East Federal Way, West Hill, and East Renton.
New tools and partnerships
Support existing mental health priorities by utilizing the legislature’s 2009 decision to allow funds collected by the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Plan to supplant funding for existing programs.
While many of the new programs the tax was intended to support are important, we must prioritize and strengthen those established programs that are critical to improving mental health and drug treatment in our region.
Send a Human Services Levy to the voters to create a stable and dedicated funding source for programs that seek to protect the most vulnerable among us.
The current executive has already messaged that he plans to eliminate most of the existing human services funding from the general fund, (in excess of $10 million). As executive, I will work with the council, nonprofit organizations, and the taxpaying public to develop a ballot measure to protect human services and the individuals it serves.
Keep parks operating by working with user groups such as swim teams, school districts, little leagues, adult recreation teams, as well as local municipalities and regional leaders to explore creative private-public partnerships.
King County is already at work finding partnership opportunities. My administration will increase outreach and provide interested parties with maintenance task lists, operational budgets and other information that is necessary for developing a business plan to operate each park, while providing the resources and expertise necessary to set up these new partnership organizations.
Reduce the King County ferry district tax and apply those savings to Metro by cutting the inefficient and wasteful exploration routes across Lake Washington and from the South King County mainland.
Last session the state legislature passed Senate Bill 5433, which allows King County to impose a property tax levy of up to 7.5 cents for transit purposes. By reducing one tax and imposing another, we can reprioritize the services people depend on without raising taxes, filling close to $12 million of Metro’s deficit for 2010.
Develop “rainy day fund” policies to cap spending at an appropriate level in high-growth years where sales tax revenue is strong.
This will help ensure the county is banking sufficient funds for an eventual economic downturn. The county’s existing policies were insufficient to protect critical public safety and human services in this economic downtown, we need more aggressive protections to prevent county officials from overspending in the good times.
Restructure fee-backed departments which have cyclical business models.
Since each department has differing budget needs, with some susceptible to the rise and fall of sales-tax revenues or demand for services, we must implement flexible budgeting processes instead of standard formulas tied to the county’s revenue growth or decline.
As an example, the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) has an expected $8 million shortfall (30% reduction from 2009) as fewer unincorporated residents and developers are filing for permits. DDES and other departments with cyclical business models need policies that reflect the volatile nature of the revenues that support those funds, not the reactionary “wait and see” practice that has exacerbated these deficits.
Conduct a department-by-department review of every work group in King County to develop a clear understanding of employee goals and output and to help develop performance metrics for improving efficiency at the frontlines.
Consolidating administrative functions like Information Technology, Human Resource Management, the print shop, and other overhead operations of King County Government.
Create an amnesty reporting system to ensure that employees and managers can report wasteful spending to my administration.
The best way to find the waste, eliminate redundancy, and improve operations is to listen to the workers who know King County best, and to protect them against retaliation for exposing wasteful practices.
Empanel more volunteer citizen advisory commissions to help both the executive and legislative branch explore how to improve efficiency.
King County is home to some of the most intelligent, experienced, and civically-minded citizens in the country, we must harness these energies and these experiences to help turn our government around.
Conduct targeted compensation reviews for certain positions to ensure county compensation and benefits are in line with their comparable private sector counterparts.
Create a budget disclosure website that gives citizens and the media access to detailed budget analysis and statistics.
Rather than merely posting the several-hundred page budget to the King County Website, this dynamic database will allow users to search by agency, program, expenditure, grant recipient, and a host of other search keywords.
King County’s ABT program (Accountable Business Transformation) is already providing the backend to the county’s new financial accounting and budget system. Creating a public portal and user-friendly interface will provide the press and public the transparency our community needs to hold the county accountable for its spending.