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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

County Budget Cuts Are Going to Hurt

posted by on November 11 at 17:02 PM

Sixty-three people lined up in the hallway outside King County Council chambers yesterday to plead with the council to restore funding for their programs. There wasn’t a bad cause among them—from advocates for the 146-year-old King County Fair to farmers whose success depends on the county-funded Puget Sound Fresh program to survivors of domestic violence who would be homeless if not for county-funded women’s shelter programs, everyone who spoke made a good case that their program shouldn’t be among those cut. Although many of the most undeniably essential programs have been placed in a metaphorical “lifeboat,” their continued existence depends on the benevolence of the state legislature, from which the county is seeking new taxing authority. And with the legislature facing a $3.2 billion state budget shortfall of its own, King County may not be at the top of its priority list.

A lot more programs are proposed for cuts than the ones I wrote about here. Here are several that people spoke out for at yesterday’s public hearing—the last public hearing the council will hold before approving the proposed King County budget.

The King County Agricultural Program. The county’s agricultural program works to preserve farmland and protect farms from development pressure in rural King County. One of its best-known programs is Puget Sound Fresh, which supports local farmers, promotes community-supported agriculture, and supports farmers markets around the region. Wade Bennett, owner of Rockridge Orchards in Enumclaw, told the council that the agricultural program had helped transform local farms from “an endangered species.. to merely a threatened species,” helping 4,000 King County farmers feed 100,000 people a year. The agricultural program, which costs $120,000 a year, could be eliminated.

The King County Crisis Clinic. The Crisis Clinic runs a suicide prevention program, helps people who are caregivers to the sick and disabled, directs people to emergency shelters, and helps people navigate the social justice system. Last year, Committee to End Homelessness Program Director Bill Block told the council, the clinic took 50 percent more calls seeking rental assistance and 21 percent more calls seeking help with heating and lighting bills. Services like the Crisis Clinic “keep our residents’ lives intact,” Block said.

New Futures. New Futures operates on-site in low-income apartment complexes in South King County, where the county’s poverty and school failure rates are highest. They run after-school programs, mentor teens, provide community development services, and help kids and adults learn English. According to New Futures director Karma Kreizenbeck, who implored the council to preserve the program’s county funding, 92 percent of the agency’s clients are recent immigrants.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. Sims’s proposed budget would completely eliminate funding for the NWIRP’s domestic-violence investigation unit, which investigates immigrants’ allegations of domestic violence; according to an NWIRP representative who spoke at this week’s meeting, the group currently has 82 people on its waiting list.

Eastside Domestic Violence. This program, which serves north and east King County, provides crisis counseling, shelter, transitional housing, and support groups for victims of domestic violence, as well as community education and training. Several former domestic violence victims told the council that without ESDV, they would have been on the streets. “I felt trapped and didnít know who to turn to or where to go since I had kept my situation a secret from my family and friends,” said one young woman who had been a victim of domestic violence for five years. “Eastside Domestic Violence was a way outÖ Please do not take this way out away from women like me.”

That’s actually only the tiniest sampling of the worthy programs that are facing cuts. County residents can also say farewell to treatment, pre-release education and training for inmates to keep them from committing crimes again; the downtown emergency winter shelter; health care and assistance for poor women and children with HIV and AIDS; several county-run family planning clinics that provide birth control and routine PAP smears to poor women; rodent control; case management for people with tuberculosis; services for drug-addicted pregnant women and families; a program that monitors infectious diseases, like hanta virus and avian flu, spread by animals; and school-based dental care programs for children, among many other vital programs.) I’ve tried to come up with a bright side to all these cuts, and I can’t. It’s wholesale slaughter at King County. All I can say is, I’m glad I don’t have their job.

RSS icon Comments

1

This is devastating. Clearly the feds should kick money down to local governments so that they don't have to slash services. Cutting services during a recession amounts to pro-cyclical fiscal policy, in addition to the human cost. I think Obama is smart enough to realize this, so help is coming on January 20, if not sooner.

Posted by minderbender | November 11, 2008 5:14 PM

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