King County Councilmember
Bob Ferguson
District 1

In this issue:

April 2009 e-news video transcript:

“Hello.  Thank you very much for watching this introduction to my e-news.  My name is Bob Ferguson, and I represent District 1 on the King County Council, which makes up much of Northeast Seattle and the north part of King County, including the communities of Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell and a little bit of Woodinville and unincorporated King County.  

“I want to talk to you today about good government initiatives.  I think people wonder what exactly does that mean when we talk about good government initiatives, and to my mind anyway it’s a type of legislation that makes government more transparent and more accountable to the people of the County.  I had the great pleasure of moving a piece of legislation that was adopted unanimously by the King County Council earlier this week that involves our budget process and more specifically, transparency with our budget process.  

“King County has a very large budget – about a $5 billion budget annually – and one thing I’ve noticed in the past few years as I’ve served on the Budget Committee and chaired the Budget Committee, is that our budget process is I think difficult not only for myself as a policy maker, to discern what specific amounts of dollars are going to what agencies, but for the general public I think it’s very difficult from a transparency standpoint to see exactly where dollars are going.  I’ll give you an example:  When we budget in King County, up until now, we budget at a lump sum amount; so for example, Public Health would be a line that says $187 million.  It takes a lot of work to get underneath that and dig underneath that, to see which particular programs or sections of Public Health are receiving what funds. 

“I proposed legislation back in January that we’ve been working on for the past few months, that was adopted this week that adds a much greater level of detail to that budget process.  So taking the Public Health as one example, that $187 million now will be broken down into 60 different sections or programs that will delineate what amounts of money are going to those sections. That, of course, will make our process much more transparent – the public can see where those dollars are going.

“From a policy maker’s perspective, it will make my job easier as well, because I can start to say ‘hey, do we need that much money for administration or that much money for restaurant inspections?  Should we have more money for community health clinics?’  I think those are the kinds of decision points that I need to make, and that this information will make that job easier. For the general public, I think it’s going to make our budget process more transparent, easier to understand, and I think that is really the definition of good government. 

“So that’s an initiative I’ve been very pleased we reached resolution on.  We worked with the separately elected officials, because of course they manage their own budgets as well, we worked with the Executive Branch, and of course the County Council to bring this together. It was a lot of work, but I’m really glad it’s come to a conclusion. 

“You can read more about it in my actual e-news, and I’ll be sending out more information as we near our budget process later on this year.  I think this is a particularly important initiative right now because of course we have tremendous budget challenges here in King County.  They’re at the state level as well, at the local government level.  We’re facing another shortfall this year of about $40-50 million in our $660 million general fund that pays for key programs like courts, jails, the elections department, all of our criminal justice.  So I think it’s particularly important to have that level of transparency – a greater level of transparency – when you have to make hard choices and significant cuts in different agencies of King County government. 

“This is also part of a larger effort in our budget process to make it run more smoothly.  In the past we’ve had a limited number of days in which to review the Executive’s proposed budget.  I proposed with some of my colleagues a charter amendment that the voters approved recently which gives us an extra 20 days to review the budget when it comes over from the executive branch. We’ll be receiving it 20 days earlier.  That gives us as members, and our staff, additional time to review the budget and help us to make an informed decision at the end of each year. 

“I appreciate you watching this issue of my e-news.  Always feel free to contact me at any time by email or phone.  My contact information is attached.  I look forward to talking to you again soon.”

Bob Ferguson
King County Councilmember, District 1

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Council Adopts Ferguson Budget Transparency Legislation

Budget OversightThe Council recently adopted an ordinance that will make the County’s budget process more transparent and help citizens better understand where their tax dollars are spent. As the prime sponsor of the ordinance, I believe that budget transparency is critical, especially in times of deep fiscal challenges. Policy makers and citizens need to know where every dollar is going.

Rather than presenting a single number for the total amount each County department plans to spend in the upcoming year, the ordinance calls for the budget to be broken down to the section level, identifying a spending plan for each major program and line of business. For example, rather than presenting the budget of Public Health as a single line item of $187,241,092, a budget detail plan will now be attached to the budget showing the planned expenditures for approximately 60 individual programs and lines of business, such as public health clinics, infectious disease control programs, and emergency preparedness.

Departments retain their current flexibility to transfer funds between lines of business within their total appropriation, but the ordinance requires departments to report to Council when transfers of over 15 percent are made. This reporting requirement will ensure that Council and the public are kept informed when there are major shifts in spending, while allowing departments the flexibility they need to react to changing circumstances and issues that may arise throughout the fiscal year.

This legislation is the latest in the Council’s continuing effort to provide transparent government policies. For example, last summer, I sponsored legislation to place a King County Charter amendment on the November 2008 ballot to extend the Council’s budget timeline. The Charter is the basic structural document of our County government, similar to a constitution, and amendments must be approved by a vote of the people. Voters approved the budget timeline extension, which provides the Council with an additional 20 days to review the Executive's proposed County budget, ensuring a more thorough review of the County’s increasingly complex $5 billion budget.

I also sponsored legislation placing a Charter amendment on the ballot to create an Office of Financial and Economic Analysis. Approved by the voters, this office will provide the executive and legislative branches of government with independent economic and revenue forecasts, which will become the basis for the budget process. Modeled after the state of Washington’s successful revenue forecasting office, this Office of Financial and Economic Analysis will ensure that decision-makers and the public receive top-notch, transparent, and objective financial analysis.

These efforts and others are helping to ensure that government remains transparent, responsive, and accountable to its citizens. I will continue to be a strong advocate for good government measures.


Veterans and Citizens Fill the Ranks at Shoreline Town Hall

Approximately 200 people attended the Veterans Town Hall in Shoreline.
Approximately 200 people attended the Veterans Town Hall in Shoreline.

I recently hosted a Committee of the Whole town hall meeting in Shoreline to discuss challenges confronting our veterans. Approximately 200 people attended the program and representatives from local, state, and federal government agencies provided a briefing on veterans services and addressed audience questions. Additionally, local veterans shared powerful personal stories about their utilization of veterans services and representatives from veterans service agencies were on-site to provide information and answer questions.

Many of my family members served in the military, including my father and eight uncles who served in World War II. In 2005, I sponsored legislation to place a levy on the ballot to raise funds for veterans and human services. King County voters overwhelmingly approved this six-year levy, which taxes King County property at a rate of five cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, making the annual cost for a $400,000 home about $20. The levy generates approximately $13 million annually and will sunset in 2011 unless renewed by the voters.

With veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with an already aging veterans population, there is increasing demand for veterans services. The town hall was a great opportunity for all of us to learn more about what is being done to help our veterans locally and what improvements need to be made.


Capacity Crowd for Ferry District Town Hall in Kenmore

Answering questions at the Kenmore Town Hall.
Answering questions at the Kenmore Town Hall.

More than 100 community members joined me and Kenmore Mayor David Baker for a town hall meeting to discuss possible water taxi service from Kenmore to Seattle. Along with King County Ferry District and King County Marine Division representatives, we addressed audience questions regarding the proposed water taxi route.

For more information about the meeting, please read: Water-taxi plan draws large crowd, Bothell-Kenmore Reporter; Ferry service to Seattle, Northlake News; A Groundswell of support for Kenmore Ferry, Kenmore Blog; A Passenger Ferry in Kenmore? Think of the Possibilities!, Kenmore Undressed blog.


Update: Civilian Oversight of Sheriff’s Office

King county Sheriff BadgeIn 2006, after a series of investigative articles by the Seattle P-I regarding alleged misconduct in the Sheriff’s Office, Councilmember Julia Patterson and I proposed creating independent civilian oversight (pdf, 219 KB) of the Sheriff’s Office, which was approved by the Council.

Many elements of the civilian oversight reforms were subject to contract negotiations with representatives of the King County Police Officers Guild, which represents Sheriff’s deputies in County labor negotiations. Under the King County Charter, the Executive negotiates contracts, and late last year, he transmitted a contract that had been negotiated with the Guild. The Council approved the contract, though it somewhat limited what the Council can do in regards to civilian oversight. For example, the original oversight legislation I co-sponsored granted the civilian oversight office the ability to respond to scenes of critical instances, but the terms of the approved contract exclude such authority.

Though different than I had originally envisioned, the majority of the oversight model adopted by the Council in 2006 remains intact. With the contract negotiations completed, we anticipate being able to establish the office in the near future to bring independent civilian oversight to the Sheriff’s Office. The recent actions of a King County Sheriff's deputy that made local and national headlines affirmed the importance of civilian oversight. Misconduct by individual law enforcement officers unfairly taints the overwhelming majority of deputies who serve our community daily with honor. Civilian oversight reforms will help increase transparency in the complaint process and restore the public’s trust that legitimate concerns will be fairly and thoroughly investigated.


Applications Sought for Retired Metro Vans

Van DonationEvery year, Council members have an opportunity to make retired passenger Metro Van Pool vans available to nonprofit organizations or local governments to address the mobility needs of low-income elderly or young people, or individuals with disabilities. If you know of a deserving organization in my district (pdf, 648 KB) that would make good use of a van and meets these criteria, please have them contact Travis Alley of my staff at (206) 296-1001 or for more information. My office is currently taking applications from interested groups until April 22.


Update: King County Executive Appointment Process

Last month, I wrote about a proposal to create a Blue Ribbon Committee to review potential appointees for an interim King County Executive to succeed Ron Sims and serve the remainder of his term. Though Sims is still awaiting confirmation as Deputy Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Council recently approved the Blue Ribbon Committee, which will help evaluate candidates for appointment and forward recommendations to the Council.


In the District

Kenmore City Hall groundbreaking. I was honored to speak at the groundbreaking of the new city hall in Kenmore. Mayor David Baker officiated and despite the rain, the approximately 80 attendees were excited about the new facility, which will be located in Kenmore's growing downtown area. The facility will replace the current city hall, which was originally designed as a drive-through bank.

SeaShore Transportation Forum. I recently attended a meeting of the SeaShore Transportation Forum, which brings together elected officials from jurisdictions in North King SeaShore_LogoCounty and South Snohomish County to share information and advocate for common transportation interests for North King County. Among other things, our discussion this month included the impact of transportation related legislation before the state legislature and regional long-term transportation planning. The forum meets the first Friday of every month at the Lake Forest Park City Hall.

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