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Originally published October 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 14, 2008 at 5:41 PM

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King County to lay off up to 255 workers

Financially ailing King County will send layoff notices to as many as 255 employees today, on top of 150 jobs already eliminated.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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King County Executive Ron Sims delivered his 2009 budget address to the Metropolitan King County Council on Monday.

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STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

King County Executive Ron Sims delivered his 2009 budget address to the Metropolitan King County Council on Monday.

C.J. Matthews, 12, gets a high-five from Kelly Sehring after a shot at Columbia Public Health Center. Vaccinations may take a hit in the King County budget next year.

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DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

C.J. Matthews, 12, gets a high-five from Kelly Sehring after a shot at Columbia Public Health Center. Vaccinations may take a hit in the King County budget next year.

Talk about the budget

MORE INFORMATION about the proposed 2009 budget: your.kingcounty.gov/exec/news/2008/1013budget.aspx

and on the Metropolitan King County Council's deliberations at kingcounty.gov/council.aspx

Public comments are invited at five meetings, all from 7 to 9 p.m.:

Tonight, Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus Commons, 24635 S.E. Issaquah-Fall City Road, Issaquah; Thursday, Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center, Courtroom 3F, 401 Fourth Ave. N., Kent; Oct. 21, Finn Hill Junior High School Cafeteria, 8040 N.E. 132nd St., Kirkland; Oct. 23, Shoreline Conference Center, Shoreline Room, 18560 First Ave. N.E., Shoreline; and Oct. 28, King County Courthouse, 10th-floor council chambers, 516 Third Ave., Seattle.

Financially ailing King County will send layoff notices to as many as 255 employees today, on top of 150 jobs already eliminated.

More workers may lose their jobs next June if some of County Executive Ron Sims' other strategies for balancing the budget don't work. Sims, who announced the downsizing Monday in his annual budget address to the Metropolitan King County Council, said he didn't know exactly how many workers would receive pink slips today.

Paring next year's general fund to $644 million, Sims said, meant cutting $93 million from what would have been needed to maintain current levels of government service.

As a result, fewer sheriff's deputies will be on the streets, courts will operate with smaller staffs, and Public Health — Seattle & King County will spend less on oral health, family planning and food safety.

The county budget office projects shortfalls of $40 million in 2010 and $62 million in 2011. Moments after his speech, Sims came under fire from the County Council's budget chairman and other elected officials who suggested his proposed budget doesn't balance spending and revenues. The council will adopt a 2009 budget next month.

Sims, calling the 2009 budget the most difficult he has ever prepared, said "critical county services are on life support" and may have to be curtailed in the middle of the year.

But his proposed budget would put off for at least six months what he called "unconscionable cuts to public health or immoral cuts to health services" — and elimination of the county's acclaimed drug and mental-health courts — through a combination of stopgap funding and a plea for outside help.

Sims proposed spending $10.5 million of reserves to put some endangered programs in "a lifeboat" for six months while the county asks the Legislature for more spending flexibility. Under current state law, the county can't use money from sources such as a new sales tax for mental-health and drug-treatment programs to maintain existing programs.

Without help from Olympia, the "lifeboat" programs would be halted and 135 more jobs eliminated June 30, according to the county budget office. Lifeboat programs include the Northshore public-health clinic; the White Center family-planning clinic; winter shelter for the homeless; vaccinations; and efforts to control tuberculosis, pandemic flu and sexually transmitted diseases.

Sims' total budget, including capital projects and such nongeneral-fund operations such as bus service, would hold steady at $4.9 billion.

The budget is out of whack because revenues from sales tax and investments have dropped while the cost of employee benefits, cost-of-living adjustments, fuel and new labor contracts have risen.

Parts of Sims' budget plan — freezing pay for nonunion employees and asking labor unions to make pay concessions they don't have to make — drew a rebuke from Sheriff Sue Rahr, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer and District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde.

Those elected officials issued a joint statement questioning whether unions would go along with Sims, and concluding that "we do not believe his budget is a 'balanced budget.' "

County Councilmember Larry Phillips, chairman of the Budget Review and Adoption Committee, called Sims' wage-saving plan and lifeboat "hopes and dreams" that may not materialize. If everything works out as Sims suggests, said Phillips, who may run against Sims for county executive next year, "We would all be very thankful."

Dustin Frederick, business manager for Public Safety Employees Local 519 and cochair of the King County Labor Coalition, said it's too early to tell whether unions will agree to reduce their negotiated cost-of-living increases as Sims has requested.

"It's a really difficult problem for us," Frederick said. "No matter what we come up with, we're going to have to go to our membership. It's going to have to approved in the typical democratic way."

Sims, speaking at a news conference, reacted angrily to suggestions his budget wasn't balanced. If unions or the Legislature don't go along with his requests, he said, budget "contras" would cut spending to amounts departments were already asked to plan for.

"These are extraordinary times for the county," Sims said. "We're talking about services people need. We don't need hot air and posturing and self-promotion. ... I'm asking for an entire government to engage in adult behavior."

Sims' numbers for layoffs and staff attrition don't include some court positions or sheriff's deputies. Rahr said she eliminated 21 jobs this year and may have to slash another 70 — mostly deputies — next year.

To keep 39 parks open in urban unincorporated areas, Sims asked the council to maintain those parks for three years with $7.7 million currently set aside as incentives to cities that annex such areas.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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