Is King County doing everything it can to avoid new taxes?

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by Michael Cate

KING5.com

Posted on May 29, 2010 at 2:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 1 at 5:39 PM

KING 5's Linda Brill reported this past week that every full-time King County employee got a pay increase last year. At the same time, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other elected officials say that, without new taxes, there will be steep cuts to the public safety system in 2011.

The following is Linda's story. Read it then tell us if you think the county is doing everything it can to make the case for new taxes.

On Monday, the council failed to get the six votes it needed to put a measure on the August ballot to ask voters to raise the sales tax. On Tuesday, the council failed again to get six votes to put a property tax measure on the ballot.

King County has 13.500 current employees and every one of them got a raise while many private sector employees didn't get one. Many citizens stepped up Tuesday to complain that county government first needs to make labor cuts before raising taxes.

"Rengotiate your labor contracts. That's where the problem is. Labor contracts. You unionized these people," Seattle resident Paul W. Locke told the council Tuesday.

"If and when the unions decide to commit to a realistic solution, I will put my name on a sales tax increase," said Snoqualmie Mayor Matthew Larson.

Surprisingly, the county workforce is roughly the same size today as it was a decade ago because of recent layoffs. What has swelled are the salaries. 1,474 employees – roughly 11 percent of the workforce - make more than $100,000 per year.

Among the high earners are public health nurses on overtime jail guards on overtime and sheriff's deputies working overtime.

Deputies crowded the council chambers Monday, urging the council to raise taxes. Sheriff Sue Rahr said that without new tax revenue, she'll be forced to lay off 40 deputies.

Not everyone's sympathetic.

"Please keep in mind, these officers have a very, very rich retirement plan," said Medina resident Bruce Hand.

There are 31 unions and 73 separate contracts in King County. It will take three years to negotiate money-saving concessions from King County workers, and it doesn't seem to be the top priority.

"Our employees are making right around the average of what most employees are making in the private and the public sector," said Councilmember Julia Patterson.

With no tax measure passed Tuesday, government officials are expecting to hand out pink slips. King County Executive Dow Constantine says he will prepare a 2011 budged that cuts essential criminal justice programs.

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