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Originally published September 24, 2012 at 9:07 PM | Page modified September 24, 2012 at 11:00 PM

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A tale of 2 budgets: Seattle upbeat; county struggles

The 2013 general-fund budget proposed by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is more than 3 percent higher than this year's budget, while King County Executive Dow Constantine's budget represents less than a 1 percent increase.

Seattle Times staff reporters

King County general fund


King County's general fund, the discretionary part of the overall budget that covers many basic services, would increase less than 1 percent under County Executive Dow Constantine's proposal. Most of the $684 million general fund is dedicated to public safety.

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Seattle, buoyed by economic growth and a voter-approved library levy, could hire dozens more employees next year, while struggling King County considers a $20 car-tab fee for residents of unincorporated areas to maintain roads.

The 2013 general-fund budget proposed by Mayor Mike McGinn is more than 3 percent higher than this year's budget. County Executive Dow Constantine's budget represents less than a 1 percent increase.

Sales-tax revenues grew by 13 percent in Seattle while rising less than 5 percent in the rest of King County between the first quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2012, according to city officials.

The two executives presented biennial budget proposals Monday to the city and county councils, which have final say on the spending plans.

Seattle: More hiring, longer community-center hours

Pointing to "cranes again dotting the skyline" to build thousands of apartments amid the growth of Amazon.com and Pioneer Square startups, McGinn delivered an upbeat budget message based on what he called a real, if still fragile, economic recovery.

A continuing rebound in tax revenues, voter approval of a library levy and various cost-saving measures will allow Seattle to hire more workers next year and avoid a budget shortfall, the mayor said.

Under McGinn's two-year proposal, libraries would hire 50 employees; 10 police officers and eight parking-enforcement officers would go to work for the city; and 15 building-permit jobs would be restored.

In all, 137 jobs would be added, bringing the total workforce to slightly more than 11,000.

Voters' approval in August of a seven-year, $122 million library levy will end annual weeklong systemwide closures that have been in effect since 2009, and will reopen libraries on days they had closed each week for budget reasons.

The levy also frees up dollars for other departments because McGinn's proposed budget provides $8.4 million of library funding over two years — equal to 8 percent of libraries' general-fund support — from the levy rather than from the general fund, Budget Director Beth Goldberg said.

Instead of dealing with a $32 million general-fund shortfall the budget office warned of earlier this year, McGinn's budget would fully replenish the $30 million rainy-day fund, which at one point fell to $10.5 million.

The proposed budget would boost road maintenance, expand afternoon or nighttime hours at seven community centers for the benefit of at-risk youths, subsidize child care for 75 more children; and put $9 million into a reserve to implement a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning police practices.

McGinn proposes to raise animal-shelter adoption fees from $5 to $15 for most animals, raise parking rates at two garages near City Hall, charge $4 for adult admission to Volunteer Park Conservatory, and charge 50 cents more to swim in city pools.

The general fund would total $951 million next year, with $4 billion in overall spending, including utilities.

King County: $20 fee

to maintain rural roads

In his budget proposal, Constantine urged approval of a $20 vehicle-license fee in the county's unincorporated areas to help maintain rural roads.

He wants the Metropolitan King County Council to adopt the fee in areas where 250,000 people live — and almost an equal number of vehicles are licensed. A decreasing population in those areas and a tough economy have led to a $50 million shortfall for maintaining rural roads, Constantine said.

The roads division eliminated 107 jobs over the past two years. Constantine's budget would cut 60 more jobs at the start of 2013.

"That will mean little or no road resurfacing," he said, while pothole patching and snowplowing also would be scaled back.

The county's road funds are largely supported by a 25-year-old levy that relies on property taxes in unincorporated areas. But annexations, along with lower property valuations, have decreased the funds.

Residents who paid $200 for road maintenance just a few years ago are paying $110 this year for the same service, according to Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who represents Northeast King County. "Nobody but Jesus can give you $200 of service for $110," Lambert said. "That is the reality we're dealing with."

Constantine's budget otherwise largely maintains the status quo. The county's general fund — the discretionary part of the overall budget that covers basic services such as public safety — would increase from $680.6 million this year to $684 million next year.

The general fund's growth was constrained by flat revenues, new efficiencies and reduced workload and workforce in county jails, according to county Budget Director Dwight Dively.

The jails' workload is decreasing because a new state policy requires swifter hearings and shorter county jail stays for felons accused of violating parole. That will lead to far fewer state inmates in county jails.

Constantine has proposed cutting 46 jail jobs, mostly by not filling vacant positions.

The total number of county employees would decline in Constantine's budget, from 12,993 to 12,969.

The vast majority of employees will get pay raises next year of 3 percent, slightly less than the rate of inflation.

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

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

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