King County government adjusts to leaner times
King County government, which has been at the budget-slashing business longer than most entities, is already taking dramatic reform steps, but it needs to do more.
PERHAPS more than officials of any other major government in the region, King County leaders recognize that the tensions between sustainable budgets and decent customer service are endless.
Revenue spikes of the good old days are not coming back any time soon.
King County Executive Dow Constantine's 2012 budget is a promising start. He pledges more savings to shore up the county's credit rating. Risking a downgrade is foolish and potentially expensive. He prudently set aside money for software upgrades, which are ongoing and predictable.
He also is committed to a program used by Boeing, Group Health, Toyota and other places that puts the county on a perpetual path to savings and efficiencies, the Lean program.
The county, which has been at the budget slashing business longer than most entities, is already taking dramatic reform steps, but needs to do more.
County contracts with the sheriff's deputies and bus drivers are out of sync with economic reality.
Yes, the county fought last year to forgo automatic cost-of-living increases for about 90 percent of employees, but raises of 1.6 percent are scheduled for 2012. The sheriff deputies are in la-la land; they get 5-percent-a-year raises. When asked to help, they would not budge.
A major reform Constantine should be fighting for at the state level is the end of binding arbitration, a relic of a bygone era. It no longer makes sense for a third party to split the difference between government and unions with the net result being the inevitable boost in wages and benefits.
The county is the local government for a shrinking number of people, so it emphasizes its role as the regional service provider in public safety and justice, transit, and, after an attempt to get out of the business, animal control.
King County responded to deplorable conditions in the management and operation of animal services with a collaborative, financially equitable regional solution. The county, 27 contracting cities and unincorporated areas have access to animal-control staff and improved service through the county's Kent shelter.
If the county is serious about ongoing transformation, the size of the County Council should be revisited. A council once 13 members strong, which was way too cumbersome and unmanageable, was reduced by voters years ago to nine members.
The council may need to shrink again. That would not only send a message of austerity but save on council member and staff salaries, which also should be reviewed because they are too high.
King County is moving in the right direction. But this is a work in progress. The new normal means the county still has a ways to go.
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