After holding 37 hours of public meetings and hearings to gather input about the 2009 Snohomish County budget, the County Council has put together a plan to address the anticipated $21 million gap that existed between 2009 projected revenues and the cost to continue services at 2008 levels next year.
Approximately 160 jobs are being eliminated, but some of those positions are currently unfilled due to a hiring freeze that was initiated last summer.
Most county departments, including the sheriff, prosecutor, courts and corrections, will be forced to absorb budget and staffing cuts. The executive and council will see reductions in their operating funds, as will the assessor, auditor, treasurer, parks and facilities departments.
The 2009 budget, which was approved November 24, calls for a 7.7 percent reduction in overall spending, from $883.5 million in 2008 to $815.4 million. Of that amount, general fund expenditures are pegged at $206.6 million.
Council vice-chair Mike Cooper said, "We asked every department to share the pain, including the executive and council offices."
The county council took public comments into consideration in the budget's preparation. 119 people testified in person at open meetings, and an additional 703 written comments, 166 of them from county employees, were received by the council.
"By working closely with the independent county elected officials and county employees, we received many creative ideas to preserve front-line services and reduce layoffs," said councilmember Dave Gossett.
In spite of the tough budget choices facing county government, councilmember Brian Sullivan said he is particularly pleased that the budget actually increases funding by $229,000 for the financially-troubled Snohomish Health District. The increase will allow the health district to continue many important programs, including the visiting nurse program and the First Choices program that provides counseling services for young mothers.
Council chair Dave Somers said the 2009 budget accomplishes the following:
Continues support for Project Self Sufficiency;
Maintains support for Senior Centers and Family Support Centers;
Increases support of the Health District over the executive's proposal;
Initiates recreational programs for children with special needs within the Parks Department;
Supports the proposed Human Rights Commission with existing staff;
Funds the development of a countywide farm preservation program;
Funds newly hired deputies who have already received academy training;
Establishes a new initiative for the renovation and modernization of the fairgrounds;
Identifies new efficiencies in the criminal justice system that are anticipated to result in increased revenue from the county jail while simultaneously reducing expenses;
Maintains the existing commitment to early childhood education through the ECEAP program;
Accelerates design and construction of critical road projects;
Continues the successful Drug Court Program;
Restores two animal control officer positions;
Restores the inmate labor program;
Institutes a program to use Planning & Development Services employees for Public Works projects which had previously been contracted out;