Cuts to county budget will be ‘deep, searing’

There won’t be enough money in the King County budget for 2009 and likely well beyond, so officials expect “deep, searing” cutbacks will be required, particularly of the county’s criminal justice systems.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, June 11, 2008 12:00am
  • News
Sheriff Sue Rahr speaks to a room full of press members as District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde

Sheriff Sue Rahr speaks to a room full of press members as District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde

Justice system to be hit hard

There won’t be enough money in the King County budget for 2009 and likely well beyond, so officials expect “deep, searing” cutbacks will be required, particularly of the county’s criminal justice systems.

During a press conference Thursday morning in Seattle, Sheriff Sue Rahr, Superior Court Presiding Judge Bruce Hilyer, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and District Court Presiding Judge Barbara Linde talked about the cuts County Executive Ron Sims has asked them to make in their departments.

Each department is expected to cut 8.6 percent of its budget, which will total about $33 million across seven criminal justice departments, due to a $68 million shortfall in the county’s overall 2009 budget.

“Never in my 29 years as a police officer have I seen a situation that so severely impacts our ability to deal with crime,” Rahr said.

She said she may be forced to cut as many as 100 deputies and potentially scale back or eliminate investigation of most fraud, Internet, property and identity-theft crimes where the loss is less than $10,000.

Satterberg described the county’s entire criminal justice system as one “that is in trouble.”

There will be large reductions in the prosecutor’s office, including as many as 30 deputy prosecutors losing their jobs, Satterberg said. There is already a hiring freeze in place, so new hires who were supposed to start this fall have been told they are in an indefinite holding pattern.

“The cuts will devastate the entire public safety system,” Satterberg said. “We’re already feeling the pinch of being short staff. It’s our obligation to say we are in trouble.”

In response, Sims held a press conference shortly afterward, saying, “You now know what a $33 million cut looks like.”

Sims blamed the combination of the downturn in the state and national economies with the state and federally mandated required services the county must provide on the budget shortfall.

“King County has a fundamental financial challenge,” Sims said. “We’re going to work on a myriad of options to resolve this. Before this is resolved, as county executive, I must first propose a balanced budget.”

Sims said he hopes to get help from the Legislature in Olympia, and he plans to take his case to the public to explain the budget shortfall.

“None of us want damage to the public safety or public health (systems), so we’re focusing on those issues,” Sims said.

Meanwhile, Superior Court and District Court may have to get rid of what Hilyer and Linde described as effective programs that dealt with offenders with mental-health issues, services for addicts that helped them into recovery rather than jail, and other optional discretionary services designed to reduce recidivism.

Linde said the programs help because “intervention works.”

The judges, Satterberg and Rahr said they brought the issue to the public to educate county residents so they in turn can voice their opinion to elected officials. “That’s how the process works,” Hilyer said.

The blame wasn’t laid at the feet of Sims during the criminal-justice officials’ press conference. Rather, they cited the competing demands on resources that are not growing at the same pace as the cash that flows into county coffers.

“It’s an obvious structural problem,” Satterberg said. “We need to look at what we ask counties to do and how they fund that.”

For those living in contract cities or unincorporated areas of the county, like Covington, Maple Valley, Sammamish, Kenmore or Newcastle, Rahr said there will become two levels of service: A higher level for those living in cities with police departments, and a lower one for those who are not because of the cuts that will be made in the department.

“Our top priority is that when someone calls 9-1-1, they get a police officer and they get them quickly,” Rahr said. “I can’t guarantee that two or three years down the road.”

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