First, regarding the fees in this budget: without mentioning every fee I will comment on a few that will directly impact citizens.
Tipping fees:these are rates charged those companies that pick up garbage and use our Solid Waste facilities. The county is required to handle that garbage and due to the escalated cost of energy the cost of doing so has increased dramatically. We increased those fees and as a consequence the ratepayer will see increase costs at the curbside.
After over a year of study regarding cost recovery of issuing permits, we have adjusted upward our permit fees. Also in order to continue the good work to date creating more efficiency and streamlining in our permitting processes in the future we added a technology fee of $3.
While we did not increase the General Fund portion of the property tax on property owners, the majority of this Council did increase the Road Fund and the Conservation Futures portions of the property tax on the citizens...an increase I believe to be unwise in the tough economic times we are experiencing.
Surface Water Mgmt. fees: The majority on this Council dramatically increased the Surface Water Management fees on the backs of property owners throughout unincorporated Snohomish County.
While these programs are wholly unfunded mandates to the County and may well have broad public benefit, I believe it is unjust to expect the burden to be laid solely on the backs of property owners.
As well, I will once again voice my objection to the wrongheaded policy of putting the burden of the maintenance of private detention ponds on taxpayers.
The majority on this Council saw fit to raise those fees beyond the recommendation of the Executive and increased this fee by 192% in the unincorporated Urban Growth Areas and 273% in the rest of the unincorporated county.
Our Senior Centers have many great programs and services to offer our seniors; however, the funding for Senior Centers when in it was first included in the county's budget only a few years ago was meant to be one-time funding (seed money for start-up funding).
It has now become an expectation for an annual appropriation. This budget again includes funding for Senior Centers and increases that funding by $85,000. The appropriation now nears $500,000.
I proposed to at least hold the line this year at time when we are expecting departments to reduce their previous years funding by 9% and are laying off employees and reducing funding in the criminal justice area, including Sheriff Deputy positions, Correctional Officer positions, and Attorneys in the Criminal Prosecution Division.
The same argument holds true for funding the inclusion manager position. Again, we are laying off people - not hiring people and we are doing so throughout every department including criminal justice.
We can barely keep our Drug Courts functional...and doing so will be dependent on raising taxes yet again. This action speaks volumes to priorities. We should not be adding unnecessary positions when we are cutting other positions relevant and essential to our first priority which is Public Safety first and foremost.
I also oppose the reduction in funding for the Economic Development Commission (EDC). The EDC has done an excellent job retaining and actively recruiting businesses and jobs. This is a wrong move given the current economic situation.
We may well be doing our part at the Council - well, at least our staff is and they are making some sacrifice to do it - and they deserve some big kudos for their willingness to do so - but the fact is that the adopted 2008 budget FTE count for the Council was 23 FTE's. But early last year the majority on this Council amended the FTE count up to 27.25. In this budget we are cutting it back to 25.25. While we are cutting expenses we will be retaining at least 2 more FTE's than the adopted 2008 budget.
Less of an increase is not a decrease!
Finally, this Council had to pick a projected revenue number and make some assumptions from which to build a budget. However, I believe a few of those assumptions may be a bit optimistic such as the property tax collection revenue, particularly when citizens are having a tough time even making their mortgage payments.
I also think that following the reductions that every department has made, the assumed under expenditure may be unrealistic. I pray that I am mistaken on those accounts and that this economy makes a positive turn toward the end of next year - which is also assumed in the revenue projections of this budget.
We have had to make some very difficult decisions and choices. Given the economy and consequent hardships on the citizens of this county, I believe on some accounts we have missed the mark. The proper and legitimate priorities and functions of government should have directed this Council to make some better decisions.
All this being said I want to thank our staff for all the many hours and hard work they have put in to put this budget. They have worked through the holiday and over weekends and deserve a "job well done".