Eastside residents call for human services support at county budget hearing

October 17, 2011

By Staff

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NEW — 12:28 p.m., Oct. 17, 2011

As the King County Council begins to listen to hours of public testimony at a series of budget hearings, one overall theme became clear at its Oct. 13 session — support human services now, before it’s too late.

Derek Franklin, a Sammamish resident and representative of the Alliance of Eastside Agencies, said the county must begin to formulate a dedicated and stable long-term funding source for human services, such as those aimed at protecting residents from homelessness, domestic violence and inadequate legal counsel.

“Although sometimes obscured by the high socioeconomic status of the Eastside, human service needs here are quite high,” he said during a public hearing at Pacific Cascade Middle School near Issaquah. “We urge the budget committee to establish a long-term fix for the human services safety net. It’s been significantly dismantled over the years by budget cuts, and people … are beginning to fall through the cracks.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine’s 2012 budget proposal earned praise from County Council members for eschewing cuts to services in the general fund — elections, law enforcement and other basic government functions. The overall budget proposal is $5.3 billion, including $648 million in the general fund.

Using $1 million from savings, Constantine proposed creating a fund for human services to invest in nonprofit organizations offering food for the needy, support for the homeless and more.

Steve Roberts, executive director for Congregations for the Homeless, echoed Franklin’s sentiments in increasing funding to services for the homeless on the Eastside.

He praised Constantine’s supplement that has been added for human services, but said more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable residents of King County.

“As you know in these tough economic times, unfortunately, as funding goes down, needs go up,” he said. “We really need to address the needs of the hungry and the homeless and the poor. It’s really when we address those needs, we reflect our humanity.”

Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, Issaquah’s representative and a member of the council’s budget team, said the council hears and understands the human services message on a financial and personal level. The more opportunities the county has to keep people out of the justice system and prevent incarceration, the better, she said.

“We just got some information that says for every $1 you put into prevention, you save $60 on the back end,” she added. “We want families to stay together. Having somebody to be able to continue working and taking care of their family is really important.”

Constantine protected most services in the 2012 county budget, but called for reduced road maintenance on roads in unincorporated areas, including some near Issaquah.

Cost reductions elsewhere could not salvage funds for roads in rural and unincorporated areas.

In mid-September, Constantine proposed a plan to prioritize road maintenance, snow removal and storm response on a tiered system to save money for the cash-strapped Road Services Division.

Streets on a lower tier — including Tiger Mountain Road Southeast, Southeast Klahanie Boulevard and sections of Southeast May Valley Road west of state Route 900 — could receive little or no snow or storm response, especially during major storms.

In recent years, annexations of unincorporated areas into nearby cities, lower property valuations and a dip in gas tax revenue caused the fund to drop 18 percent, from $128 million to $106 million.

Issaquah School Board member Chad Magendanz encouraged the council to review the proposed reduced road maintenance to make sure it doesn’t overlap with the school district’s snow removal routes.

“Right now, many of our snow routes are in your lowest served tier,” he said at the budget hearing. “Without any snow plow service, we’re going to have to cancel school.”

Officials projected a $20 million shortfall in the general fund for 2012, but Constantine said savings across the board prevented the expected deficit from materializing.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Christina Lords: 392-6434, ext. 239, or newcastle@isspress.com.

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