The County's Boat Sinks, But With a Lifejacket

Swine Flu fears are receding, but King County will stop the cuts to communicable disease investigations, originally scheduled to hit at the end of this month.

Last fall, Ron Sims managed to balance the budget by funding $8 million in programs for only six months. He called it the lifeboat and threw in feel good things like providing kids free sealants in the hopes it would pressure Olympia into giving the county additional taxing power. And while King County got some of what it wanted out of this legislative session to avoid cuts to programs like Mental Health court, a proposed utility tax that would have kept the boat itself afloat failed.

But some of the things put in were just too critical to let go, says interim Executive Kurt Triplett. So today Triplett, with support from the council (who backed the lifeboat scheme), introduced a $2.8 million lifejacket. (DOC.doc)

Disease investigations are one of a handful of county programs that will survive the deadline. Immunizations currently given to kids by the public health department and county contributions to various homelessness programs have also been spared. The Evergreen Pool in White Center got an extension to August on the condition that it be privatized, otherwise it will close then.

Most of the money will come from decreasing contributions to the county employee retirement funds and temporarily increasing fees at the county auditor's office, both allowed by state rules governing county budgets, according to spokesperson Natasha Jones. It will not she says (as stated in an earlier version of this post) actually impact the reserve funds that protect the county's bond rating, though a different reserve fund will take a hit in making the whole plan work.

Still, several county departments will see the planned cuts. In a press release sent out today, Triplett's office said that everything else in the boat would go, including the sealant program, a substance abuse recovery support program and one coordinating care for kids with more dramatic health needs.

It also puts the county in a tougher position next year. The programs were supposed to be cut because funding them wasn't something the county could do out of its revenue streams. By floating them for another six months, the county revised its 2010 budget deficit up to $46.4 million (though it was anticipated to range up to $50 million anyway).

At least four council members have signed on to support the plan so far.

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