Just as many of our residents and businesses have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Snohomish County is facing budget constraints due to falling revenues. In response to this, the County Council has approved reductions in spending accordingly. In this month’s column I will highlight the actions the Council has taken to keep our budget balanced during this time of economic uncertainty.
Snohomish County’s budget is funded by a variety of sources. The hardest hit of the County’s budget is the General Fund which is funded mostly by property and sales taxes. The economic shutdowns imposed in response to COVID-19 have resulted in businesses being closed, less economic activity, and ultimately less tax revenue coming to local governments.
Early on, we recognized that there would be revenue shortfalls and the Council worked with the County Executive to take precautionary steps in April to limit spending. This included a hiring freeze to limit the number of new employees hired. By keeping vacant positions empty, we were able to save the cost of those salaries and benefits for the rest of the year.
While the hiring freeze was a good first step in addressing budget concerns, we knew that it would not be enough to make up for the revenue shortfalls that we were expecting. As a result, we began the process of identifying cuts to the budget that would keep us on solid financial ground while maintaining critical services for residents.
This process resulted in the budget revision ordinance that the County Council adopted on June 10th. The budget revisions included cutting certain programs and projects that were planned for 2020. This included a number of studies, capital projects such as the construction of a new South precinct for the Sheriff’s Office, and moving funds from the County’s reserve account to offset revenue reductions.
We also adjusted department budgets across the County and asked departments to tighten their belts. We approved a 3.5% reduction to all general fund departments which resulted in savings of $12 million. Many departments will be utilizing furlough days where County employees will take unpaid days off to save money. Departments will also cut various supplies, professional services, and projects to accomplish these savings.
While this budget revision ordinance was a necessary step to address the County’s budget shortfall, there is still much work to be done to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown. The pain felt by local businesses and residents is deep and will be long lasting. We expect that the economic recovery coming out of COVID-19 will last well into next year.
To prepare for long term economic impacts, we will be carefully considering any spending proposals for the 2021 budget and keeping a close eye on the budget situation as we get closer to the 2021 budget process. I am committed to maintaining essential services such as public safety and roads while finding ways to reduce spending where we can in order to pass a balanced budget with no new taxes.
Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org or by phone at (425) 388-3494.