One of the most important roles of the County Council is the adoption of the annual budget for Snohomish County. Our budget currently exceeds $1 billion, which pays for services ranging from public safety and elections to roads and parks. The budget determines the level of revenues we will collect as county government and where we will spend those funds over the course of the year. In addition to being a financial document, the budget is a statement of values, showing where we are prioritizing spending and services.
Last month, the County Council received Executive Somers’ recommended 2021 budget. From there, we began working with staff to analyze the recommended budget and draft potential changes based on Council priorities.
The recommended budget does not increase the general property tax levy, a move that I think reflects an understanding that residents are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown. If approved, this will be the fourth consecutive year that the County Council has not increased the general property tax levy. The recommended budget limits new spending as we grapple with decreased revenues caused by the economic downturn.
Since receiving the recommended budget, I have worked with my colleagues on the Council to begin drafting amendments to reflect the priorities of the County Council for next year. These amendments include shifts in expenditures and an overall reduction in general fund spending.
One of the amendments allocates funding for a vacant patrol deputy position within the Sheriff’s Office with revenues from the Roads Fund. This additional deputy will join the current traffic enforcement team to increase the presence of law enforcement in unincorporated areas and increase public safety.
By reducing positions elsewhere in the budget, we were also able to propose funding for an additional designated crisis responder within the Human Services budget. These employees help respond to individuals suffering from substance abuse and mental and behavioral health issues. They help de-escalate situations and identify services to connect these individuals with the resources they need. We have been able to support needed investments in human services without cuts to law enforcement, contrary to the narrative espoused by the extremist calls to defund or abolish the police. We do not have to choose between law enforcement and social services. These are not mutually exclusive and both can be prioritized to address public safety and the wellbeing of our communities.
We are also shifting funding to fill a vacant Code Enforcement Officer position in the Planning and Development Services budget. One of the most common calls I receive from constituents is regarding nuisance properties, which often involve drug issues, squatters, and excessive trash. These properties can cause significant issues in neighborhoods and can lead to public health concerns and increased crime. This additional Code Enforcement Officer will help the team address violations and focus more attention on getting these chronic nuisance properties cleaned up.
The budget amendments include a number of cuts to trim discretionary spending in departments and offices across the County. This includes funding allocated for training, travel, and contingencies. While families and businesses across the County are tightening their belts due to financial uncertainty, we feel it is appropriate to limit county government’s discretionary spending as well. The proposed budget and amendments offer an overall balanced budget with no increase to the county’s general tax levy and a net reduction in general fund spending. This budget prioritizes public safety and fiscal restraint, and I believe it is a plan that our community can be proud of.
We will be hosting two public hearings on the proposed 2021 budget on Monday, October 26th. The first hearing will be held at 10:30 AM and the second will be held at 6:00 PM. Both hearings will be conducted via Zoom. Our anticipated budget adoption date is Tuesday, November 10th at 10:30am. There will be an opportunity for public comment at that meeting as well. If you are interested in learning more about the budget or have feedback you would like to share, please do not hesitate in reaching out to me at Nate.Nehring@snoco.org.
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.