State of the County address: Amid pandemic, Somers proposes ‘worst-case scenario’ budget for 2021

 

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers delivers his State of the County address via Zoom Tuesday.

Speaking during a virtual State of the County address Tuesday, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said 2020 has been “a year like no other.”

The coronavirus pandemic cost the county $26.9 million in tax revenue this year. Somers said next year’s budget will take another hit: an additional $19.5 million loss.

“Our economy,” said Somers, “is in a rough place,” adding he believes that many residents will be at risk of losing their homes as the county continue to weather the COVID-19 outbreak. The executive laid out a proposed budget that “assumes the worst-case scenario… so that we don’t have to make any mid-year cuts in 2021.”

His proposed general fund budget is $264 million. The total of all funds is $1.045 billion; that’s a decrease of approximately $55 million from 2020’s adopted budget. The county gets about 7 cents from every dollar of property tax collected, and according to Somers that revenue remains fairly stable. What has hurt is the loss in sales tax revenue, which has taken a beating during the pandemic.

A total of 42% of the county’s general fund money is spent on law enforcement and corrections; add in courts, the prosecutor, county clerk, emergency management and the medical examiner and that adds up to 75% of the general fund.

Still, he promised, “I will do everything in my power to avoid layoffs” for next year. He said he plans to meet that challenge by extending a hiring freeze, postponing more non-essential projects, and having many county workers continue to take unpaid furloughs in 2021. He says the average hit on department budgets will be about 2%.

Somers praised county staff and residents for their resilience, strength and adaptability for getting through this year.

Key elements from the 2021 budget proposal include:

  • A plan to buy body cameras for deputies. The county has moved $500,000 from a law and justice study to do that; but training and installing computer storage systems will take longer than a year to implement.
  • Creating a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. It would merge the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department with Surface Water Management, Environmental Sustainability Office, and the Agriculture Office.
  • Keeping public safety a top priority and making progress on social justice.
  • Focusing county and city efforts on the housing crisis that Somers said will almost certainly be worse in 2021.
  • Developing a county stockpile of personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, medical jump suits) to last for six months.
  • Continued efforts to diversify the economy, strengthen workforce training, speed economic recovery, and identify innovative job growth programs.

The economy, especially Boeing’s future in Everett, is a major question mark for the county’s immediate future. The biggest threat would be a decision by Boeing to consolidate 787 production in the company’s South Carolina plant.  Somers admitted he has not been assured that the 787 line will stay in Everett.

When questioned about whether the county had an “alternate” budget in case the Boeing move happens, Somers said “no”; adding that the county will plan for the worst-case scenario if that occurs. He does predict that Boeing’s huge investment in Everett will continue to mean work there, but warns “it’s going to be a couple of rough years for Boeing.”

Snohomish County has recently launched the “Better with Boeing” campaign to highlight the close ties with the company and to play up county strongpoints to keep work here.   You can check that out at BetterWithBoeing.com.

The proposed budget now goes to the Snohomish County Council for final approval.  Somers summed up the county’s position: “In the midst of the madness of 2020, we are well positioned to succeed.”

Click here to view to the Executive’s ‘State of the County’ speech on YouTube.

— By Bob Throndsen

 

 

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