Cost of Police Tops Agenda During County Executive’s Burien Meeting

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by Ralph Nichols

King County Executive Dow Constantine took a leisurely stroll through the Burien Farmers Market on a sunny Thursday afternoon (Aug. 5) – but only after spending 90 minutes discussing issues of local concern with City Council members.

Topping the list for both Constantine and the Burien representatives – Mayor Joan McGilton, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark, Council members Jack Block Jr. and Kathy Keene, and City Manager Mike Martin – was the cost of police services.

The County Council, facing a $60 million general fund budget deficit in 2011, has placed a 0.2-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot that, if approved, will generate an additional $40 million for sheriff’s deputies, prosecuting attorneys and the courts.

Without the extra revenue, Constantine said, the budget he presents to the County Council this fall will require the layoffs of “many dozens of deputies” and prosecutors and judges.

Cities that contract with the King County Sheriff’s Office for police services would continue to receive the direct services they pay for, but there would be noticeable cuts in law enforcement support services.

“I have approached the [police] guild,” Constantine said in response to a question, “and they have been to this point unwilling to reopen their contract.” He expressed the hope that the guild will be willing to renegotiate for the public good if the revenue shortfall continues.

If the sales tax increase is approved, King County cities will share 40 percent of that money, he added. Burien would get about $410,000 in 2011 and an estimated $950,000 in 2012.

“We take very seriously” public safety, which accounts for over half of the city’s general fund budget, Martin told Constantine. “We are extremely happy with our cops,” he said. McGilton remarked, “We are very, very happy” with the quality of police service Burien receives.

City police services, paid for by the city, are provided through Burien’s contract with the sheriff’s office, as they also are in Sea-Tac.

But, Martin continued, “Burien can’t afford the COLAs [cost-of-living adjustments] they have … [and] we love our cops.”

As an alternative, the city officials are beginning to talk with other cities – with “support among some” – about establishing a separate law enforcement authority that would police several cities within a sub-region, which would be similar to county fire districts.

Should a law enforcement authority eventually become a reality, “I would be willing to recommend to my council that we give every single cent of our property tax to that.”

Martin also said, “We love our District Court. The prosecutors and judges keep us well informed … they’re putting the right people in jail. They’re extremely efficient … they’re serving the community well. They’re really serving justice.”

Block suggested that Constantine might find a solution for maintaining county roads in Burien’s asphalt overlay program, funded in part by a $10 car tab fee, that is scheduled to begin in late summer with a resurfacing of Ambaum Blvd. SW from SW. 112th St. to SW 156th St.

Martin noted that transportation programs in Southwest King County, including roads, bus routes and the South Park Bridge, have been neglected over the years in what “sort of smacks as a social justice issue.”

And, Constantine replied, county government is “clearly serving lower profile constituents” in this area. He represented the Burien-North Highline-South Park area on the county council before his election as executive last year.

He suggested that circumstances, including the sudden commitment of funds for a new South Park Bridge, might have been different had he been elected executive two years earlier.

Martin reported “so far, so good” since Burien annexed a large part of North Highline on April 1. Several City Council members, acknowledging Seattle’s stated interest in annexing the remaining unincorporated North Highline, told him the city looks forward to annexing it.

“Let’s make this one [annexation] successful first,” Martin said.

Constantine praised Burien’s Transit-Oriented Development, which he said is creating a hub for bus service and eventually, perhaps, for Link Light Rail from Des Moines through Burien to downtown Seattle, and from Burien to the Eastside.

“A lot of people are talking about what you are doing here,” he added.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for TOD,” McGilton told him. Because of a new TOD parking garage, which is expected to be built starting later this year, and if the county closes a deal with Galaxy Theaters, “that will bring us a 10-screen theater” at Town Square.

Revenue from a multiplex cinema could bring the city an additional $250,000 in revenue a year, Martin said.

Council members also outlined for Constantine plans for building on the Northeast Redevelopment Area north of Sea-Tac International Airport, including increased access with a full interchange on state Route 518 and relocating Burien’s “auto row” there.

And they updated him on a new and improved working relationship with the Port of Seattle after years of legal battles over construction of the third runway.

This was the 34th city visited by Constantine in his tour of all 39 King County cities and its small towns and unincorporated area since taking office. He earlier visited Des Moines, Normandy Park, SeaTac and Tukwila.

[Photo of Dow Constantine taken by Michael Brunk during his tour of Des Moines in July.]

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