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Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 08:46 PM

King County budget won't grow much for 2013; some fees to rise

By Bob Young
Seattle Times staff reporter

The Metropolitan King County Council unanimously approved a 2013 budget Tuesday, with a few notable changes to Executive Dow Constantine's proposal.

Although the council kept almost all of Constantine's budget in place, it did depart from his call for all county agencies to save 3 percent annually through efficiencies. Constantine argues that such yearly savings, along with his emphasis on lean management, are needed because county revenues are not keeping pace with costs, even as the county trims its workforce and health-care expenses.

In Constantine's plan, next year's general fund would have increased by less than 1 percent, from $680 million to $684 million. The council added $3 million in spending but only increased the general fund to $685 million. The council got the other $2 million in new revenue.

Constantine had cut $875,000 and 10 positions from the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. But Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said a 3 percent reduction in his budget wasn't fair or sustainable.

His office already had cut 36 prosecutor jobs over five years, Satterberg said. And, unlike other departments, Satterberg said, his agency couldn't cut overtime because its lawyers aren't paid any; it couldn't slash vehicle expenses because it doesn't have a fleet; and it couldn't ethically raise money through new fees.

The council restored $740,000 and eight positions.

The council funded its added spending by using savings from recently refunded debt, finding a $1 million accounting error, deeming internal charges by another county department too high, and tapping a recent settlement with Merrill Lynch over impaired investments the county made during the national 2008 financial crisis.

The council put $1.3 million of the extra funding into social services. It put an additional $460,000 into hiring cadets for the Sheriff's Office, aimed at shortening the time it takes to replace retiring deputies.

In keeping with Constantine's proposal, the council also increased several fees.

The monthly cost of parking a small plane at Boeing Field will go from $90 to $95 next year.

The county will raise permit fees for larger building projects. Fees for building a new house with a $500,000 value would increase 6.5 percent, or about $575. Fees for smaller projects, such as a $100,000 remodel, would decrease about $50 or 1.5 percent.

Fees for surface-water management in unincorporated areas will increase 27 percent over two years, from $133 to $169 for residential parcels. Fees for commercial properties would increase by a similar percentage, depending on acreage and amount of paved surface. This hike is driven by federal clean-water regulations, according to county officials, and the county's fees would remain lower than those in cities such as Seattle and Bellevue.

Constantine proposed the entire fee hike next year. The council will stretch it over two years to soften the blow.

The council also expects the county to take in $50,000 from applications for same-sex marriages. It will direct that money next year to programs for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender youth because they are overrepresented in homeless and runaway populations, council budget chair Joe McDermott said.

The council rejected the idea, suggested by Constantine, of raising car tabs $20 in unincorporated areas to pay for road maintenance. Declining property values and decreasing population in those areas, due to the economy and annexations, have led to a $50 million shortfall for maintaining rural roads, Constantine said.

But the increase in car tabs would raise only $4 million a year, McDermott said. "We recognize the amount raised is really a drop in the bucket for what's needed." Instead county officials will lobby state lawmakers for more additional tools to fund roads and other transportation services, he said.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com


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