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Proposed budget could mean cuts to Sheriff Rahr’s office

King County Sheriff Sue Rahr apparently was not in the mood to mince words, nor afraid of being accused of using scare tactics.

On a tour of various local sheriff’s offices and meeting privately with staffers, Rahr said the budget proposed by county Executive Dow Constantine means $7 million in cuts to her office.

Overall, the budget Constantine released Sept. 27 could mean the lay off of 200 employees county-wide, along with the outright elimination of some 300 additional jobs.

The proposed spending plan must be approved by the King County Council.

“The people of King County need a government that is restored to sound financial footing, not one lurching from crisis to crisis,” Constantine said in a press release. “This is a budget that calls not merely for muddling through another year of cuts, but for efficiencies that can be sustained over time so we can stabilize county finances.”

Reached at the sheriff’s office in Kenmore Sept. 27, Rahr said to take up the financial slack in her department, she may need to eliminate 71 jobs. Having anticipated some budget shortfalls, Rahr said she built up a number of vacancies. Still, an additional 28 deputies are facing layoffs.

According to Rahr, those reductions will be felt most immediately in unincorporated areas of King County. She said cities such as Kenmore and others that contract with the sheriff’s office would not be as affected. Since those communities pay directly for policing services, Rahr said cuts in those locations aren’t practical. Still, Rahr contended the entire county, including contract cities, ultimately will feel the effect of county law-enforcement cuts.

Rahr said Constantine has proposed slicing various services ranging from the county prosecutor’s office to county courts. As the prosecutor’s office sheds personnel, Rahr said she expects it will raise the bar in terms of recommending felony charges. She said that will mean not only fewer suspects charged with felonies, but, as many cities handle misdemeanor charges themselves, more cases will be returned from the county prosecutor to individual communities. That means increased costs to local authorities.

“Every city will be impacted,” Rahr said.

According to both Rahr and Constantine, voter passage of a King County sales-tax increase would eliminate the need for most law-enforcement reductions. Rahr said the tax of 2/10 of 1 percent would allow her office to maintain current levels of service.

“The public can choose in November to maintain just the current level of criminal justice services by raising revenues,” Constantine said. “If voters approve, we can restore the public-safety services that are cut here. Or, the public can choose the sharply reduced level of public safety reflected in this budget.”

Dubbed King County Proposition One, the proposed sales tax would increase King County taxes on most retail items to 9.7 percent and to 10.2 percent on many restaurant purchases. There does not appear to be any organized opposition.

However, in the King County voters pamphlet, the argument against the tax states, in part, that King County has raised fees repeatedly in the last five years, but offers less in services. The statement argues there are other places, besides law enforcement, where the county could adjust its budget. For example, there is a contention the county gave pay raises to its employees every year of the recent recession and, further, that those employees pay no monthly premium for health insurance.

If the tax issue fails, more seasoned officers — county detectives and sergeants — will be returned to basic patrol, according to Rahr. She contends that means some lower-priority incidents, such as property crimes, will receive much less attention. Rahr said it would not be possible for detectives to do a lot of follow up on such crimes in unincorporated areas.

In addition to the cuts touched on by Rahr, Constantine threw in other proposed service reductions, including 42 Superior Court positions and 22 in the Department of Judicial Administration. He talked about reductions in services for juvenile offenders and for the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“We are not doing right by the most vulnerable, but we are in a position where the things we know we should do are being sacrificed to preserve the things we’re required to do,” Constantine said.

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