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King County Executive
Dow Constantine

2011 State of the County Address: Prosperity through partnership


“Working Together for One King County” means all of us, representing nearly 2 million people, in partnership, to create a shared and sustainable prosperity for all.


2011 State of the County
Positioning the Region for Prosperity for All
King County Executive Dow Constantine
Maleng Regional Justice Center
February 28, 2011

Council chair Gossett, Committee chair Hague, councilmembers, elected officials, valued employees, and guests:

One King County. That is the heart of our strategic plan.

"Working Together for One King County" means all of us, representing nearly 2 million people, in partnership, to create a shared and sustainable prosperity for all.

Consider this:

"The people of King County have given us the opportunity to make local government work....

"The archaic old system and years of inattention to the needs of local government by the state, have placed the County's current expense fund in dire circumstances ....

"It will require a total effort by all elected officials and the dedicated corps of County employees to reach our full potential."

Those are not my words. They are from the first State of the County address, presented 42 years ago by our first King County Executive under our charter. We are honored to have him here with us today. Please join me in recognizing the first King County Executive, and the 18th Governor of the State of Washington, the Honorable John Spellman.

Executive Spellman's call to "make government work" resonates today.

One year ago I presented an agenda for reform--rooted in our strategic plan and reflective of our shared values--to modernize, to innovate and to remake King County government.

In one focused and determined year, we have accomplished much:

A year ago, the South Park Bridge was closed, with no replacement in sight.

  • Now we're getting ready to break ground on a new South Park Bridge, to rebuild this vital manufacturing and industrial link, re-connect working family neighborhoods, and restore salmon habitat.

A year ago I and the Council believed that our only choice was to close the animal shelter and get out of that line of work.

  • Now 27 cities have joined us in a new regional model for animal services providing better care and control.

A year ago our NorthEast cities were preparing to site and build a new jail.

  • Now we've come together to spare neighborhoods the turmoil of siting a jail and avoid the cost of building a new one.

A year ago I outlined ways to address the "dire circumstance" in our general fund, a circumstance even more dire even than that of which Executive Spellman spoke in 1969.

  • Now we have crafted a balanced budget, that resets our expenses, restores public confidence, and positions this county for future success.

A year ago we faced a 13th year of struggle over Maury Island

  • Now the public owns, and we will preserve, the longest remaining stretch of undeveloped Puget Sound shoreline in King County.

And, a year ago, we were evacuating County facilities in the Green River Valley.

  • Today, we've gathered here in the valley city of Kent, secure in the knowledge that the Army Corps is moving ahead with well-designed and fully-funded long-term repairs to the Howard Hanson Dam.

All of these accomplishments - all of them - came through partnerships.

  • Funding the dam took months of work by the four Valley cities, by Colonel Anthony Wright, by Governor Gregoire - and most directly by Senator Patty Murray and our congressional delegation.

As a place to do business, the reputation of this Valley was threatened.

  • Today we are casting a vote of confidence in the future of this community.
  • Elections Director Sherill Huff and I now agree: it is safe and it is time for King County to move Elections back to its state-of-the-art facility in Renton.
  • Today we are announcing that Elections headquarters will return to the Green River Valley this June.

There's more work to do to protect these communities, but partnerships like this one, that secured the dam, embody the essence of our reform agenda for county government. No kicking the can down the road. No pointing of fingers. No waiting for someone else to lead.

In the year ahead our work has two parts:

  • The first - to continue to build out our reform agenda, making County government ever more efficient and effective;
  • And then - to raise our sights from these critical internal reforms to build the broader foundation for the economic recovery and sustainable prosperity that will benefit all.

* * *

Our reform agenda challenges all of us to fundamentally change how we do business in three important ways.

  • First, we are encouraging all our employees to "Be the Difference," by giving them the tools to improve the quality and lower the cost of what they deliver.
  • Second, we will pilot a new approach to budgeting and management that defines the products and services we deliver, calculates the cost, and measures the quantity - and the quality - of what's produced.
  • And third, we will identify 3 percent efficiencies this year - and next year and every year thereafter - meeting shortfalls by constantly creating value, rather than diminishing service to the people.

Last year - with many painful, but necessary cuts - we reset our general fund budget to a level that we can sustain.

  • Our County elected officials led the way by making tough budget cuts and freezing their own salaries and those of their appointed staff.

  • But we could not have succeeded as we have without the partnership of our valued employees, and the unions that represent them.

In Wisconsin, the governor is taking ... a different approach.

  • He is making public employees the enemy. Well, that strategy is not going to work.
  • The state of Wisconsin stands to lose its best people. It will never get the best work out of those who remain. And it will struggle to attract talented people who want to make government work better.

Working together as One King County, we are engaging our public employees as partners.

  • The men and women who serve on our front lines stepped up last year to protect services to the public. From corrections officers to court personnel, from bus operators to solid waste engineers, public health nurses to custodians - your spirit of sacrifice sent a powerful signal about your commitment to public service. All of us here thank you.

The major credit rating agencies have taken notice of our reforms and, even in this economy, have reaffirmed King County's extraordinary Triple-A bond rating.

The Municipal League has also taken notice, and earlier this month applauded:

  • our performance-based management;
  • our new cadre of change leaders;
  • our customer-focused culture;
  • our strengthened relations with labor; and
  • our major process improvements at DDES and at Metro.

They questioned only whether we can sustain the sense of urgency, whether we can make this new thinking permeate all parts of County government.

  • Well, I challenge each of us to prove this year that YES ... WE CAN.

* * *

Last year, we adopted our first-ever King County Strategic Plan, thanks to the partnership of this Council.

The first goal in our strategic plan prioritizes safe communities and accessible justice systems for all. Our challenge this year is to continue progress towards that goal while holding fast to our core principle of sound financial stewardship.

We gave voters a choice over the level of public safety services, and we must respect their choice. Each of our elected justice-system leaders made tough choices that support financial sustainability.

  • For this year, the Council has set aside a modest justice reserve to help us weather emergencies or unforeseen circumstances.
  • Because this is one-time money, we must focus it to make systemic technology or other investments that save money year after year.

The commitment to limit growth in costs extends to our work with our city partners who contract for police services.

  • The Sheriff and I agree: costs must be predictable and sustainable, through contracts that are fair, flexible, transparent and accountable to decision-makers and the public.

I commend our elected justice-system leaders for creating a culture of performance in their own agencies.

  • Our communities must have confidence in the professionalism of their law enforcement officers.
  • And Sheriff Rahr is training her officers in justice-based policing - an investment that supports a culture of service, trust and safety between Sheriff's deputies and every member of the public.
  • Prosecutor Satterberg continues to pursue justice, protect victims of violence and abuse, and apply our laws fairly to those accused of criminal wrongdoing, no matter how challenging the case.

District Court, under the leadership of Presiding Judge Linde, and Superior Court, led by Presiding Judge McDermott, are also stepping up with creative reforms and a spirit of partnership.

  • Right here in Kent, the County owns the Aukeen District Courthouse and shares space with the city. But the city needs to expand its municipal court.
  • So rather than having Kent spend $7 million for expansion, I am sending our Council a proposal to sell the Aukeen building to Kent, and to consolidate our District Court proceedings here at the Maleng Regional Justice Center.

Like many of you, I have spent my entire life here, in King County, and I've seen a lot of change in that time. Like you, I am committed to protecting the things that are great about this place, and tending to what needs fixing. It's a personal passion. And it's a regional necessity.

  • And I know that if we are to keep our communities healthy and prosperous, we need to link our decisions on land use and transportation.
  • We are a geography of mountains to sound, hamlets to high-rise, working farms and forests to bustling nightlife.
  • We pioneered growth management to focus development where it belongs - to reduce the cost of building roads and sewers and schools and sidewalks; to maximize quality of life in walkable neighborhoods and transit-friendly communities; to preserve our rural, agricultural and forest lands.

With a recent $5 million federal grant, we are putting this vision into practice at Northgate and other areas to integrate housing and transportation along light rail lines.

Today I am sending the Council a motion defining the scope for a major update to the King County Comprehensive Plan that will further link transportation, services, economic growth, and housing for all.

And today I am also sending the Council a Transit Strategic Plan that sets guidelines for appropriate levels of service so that our buses can carry more people, more productively, while respecting the social and geographic diversity of our county.

  • Arbitrary boundaries and political divisions will be put in the past, as the plan sets transparent guidelines for service based on measurable data and identified needs.
  • As you know, this plan is based on the recommendations of our Regional Transit Task Force, a broad coalition of stakeholders that unanimously called for a more rational, objective approach to prioritizing bus service, and for a sustainable source of funding for public transit.

  • I thank them for their thoughtful work, which is also being recognized with the James Ellis Regional Leadership Award from the Municipal League.

  • My congratulations to Mayor Cooke, our host here in Kent today and a member of the task force, and to all the other task force members. Let us thank them for their excellent work.

In line with our Strategic Plan, this year we will redouble our commitment to environmental sustainability, which also supports our financial sustainability.

  • The Energy Plan I transmitted last year continues to reduce our energy use in all County operations, while saving us money.

The link between our region's prosperity and environmental sustainability is nowhere more evident than in the Lower Duwamish. This is a vital manufacturing and industrial center, home to some of the nation's leading-edge new, green industries, but it carries the legacy of the last century's industrial use as a Superfund site.

  • Working collaboratively with Seattle, the Port, and The Boeing Company we will develop a pragmatic and focused approach to carry out early cleanup actions.
  • Prolonged delay and endless process will only drive away investment, threaten family-wage jobs, and increase health risks faced by disadvantaged communities.

Thirty years ago, King County residents recognized the role of our rural area in our region's prosperity, voting to preserve the rich resource that is our farmland.

  • Today, our farms in King County produce the highest value per acre of agricultural land anywhere in the state of Washington.

Today's challenge is to keep that farmland in productive use and to keep farmers farming - and to make it possible for all of us city mice to nibble on the tasty, fresh, local food they produce.

In concert with a growing list of city partners, we are striving to protect our most productive farms and forests while building more compact and vibrant communities.

  • The city of Sammamish is the latest to join the club of city partners who are accommodating transferred development rights from open space to urban areas, and I will send our Council legislation in the coming weeks to formalize this new partnership.

And, of course, our farmers can't get their products to urban markets without a sustainable network of roads serving the rural areas.

  • Later this year, I will transmit a plan to transition our Roads Services Division to becoming a provider of rural roads - a plan to address an aging infrastructure of roads that lacks stable and adequate funding.

* * *

So here we are, standing on the cusp of economic recovery from the greatest recession of our lifetimes.

  • Our job, this year, is to build prosperity and get people back to work.

Our work must position our region to prosper, and to ensure that everyone can participate in the recovery to come.

  • People create government to provide those things that individuals and markets cannot do working alone - roads, transit, clean water, safe streets.
  • Investments in our infrastructure - both physical and social - provide the conditions businesses need in making decisions to locate or to remain here, or to grow here.
  • This prosperity in turn generates the revenue that enables us to invest in those things we all value.
  • It will take prosperity to be able to restore the Sound, to build a transportation system to meet our future needs, to provide all of our children with a quality education, and to prepare intelligently for the growth we know will come.

Our region has the can-do history of investment and innovation.

  • Many of us drove here today on roads that were built by our parents' and grandparents' generations.
  • In the coming year, our generation can refocus on the responsibility of creating jobs now while investing in the future of our children

Soon we'll be opening bids for construction of the new South Park Bridge and putting people back to work.

And this comes not a moment too soon, as the U.S. House just passed a measure to take back all unobligated TIGER II federal transportation funds. Our TIGER grant came in just under the wire because we were ready to go.

At this hour, on this day ten years ago, we were experiencing the Nisqually Earthquake. it's time to get moving on the deep-bore tunnel for the Highway 99 corridor. A contract's been signed, let's get the job started and put people back to work.

Add to that the much-needed replacement of the 520 bridge, and we have projects in the pipeline that will create construction jobs now and infrastructure for the decades ahead.

With light rail, I'm proud to be part of the generation that is stepping up to build the kind of infrastructure we should have started decades ago.

We need to complete the voter-approved expansion of our Sound Transit system to the east, to the north, and to the south, to complement one of the best bus systems in the nation.

The 100 million trips provided by King County Metro every year are essential to keep our workforce and local businesses moving. Over the past two years, in line with a County audit, Metro has transformed its operations:

  • With new scheduling efficiencies we have preserved 125,000 hours of service.
  • We have eliminated more than 100 staff positions and reduced the least-productive service.
  • Our riders are doing their part: since 2007, fares have increased 80 percent.

Our employees are doing their part: freezing salaries and creating new workplace efficiencies, they have reduced Metro's labor costs by up to $17 million per year.

  • That's saving the equivalent of all weekday rush-hour bus trips in the 520 corridor - both morning and afternoon.
  • After years of criticizing Metro, state lawmakers last week recognized these reforms, and that is a tribute to all who work for Metro.

Despite these sweeping reforms, the collapse of sales tax revenues that support public transit means the agency still faces a gap of hundreds of thousands of bus hours and millions of dollars in shortfalls over the next four years.

I urge all of us to join in support of state lawmakers who are working on an interim funding option to protect transit.

  • We also need to mobilize now, this week, to urge Congress to continue its support for our new RapidRide mass transit program, which has won early praise from riders.

We have other critical infrastructure needs to which we must attend.

In September, we will celebrate the opening of the Brightwater Treatment Plant, to protect our water quality while providing the capacity for future growth.

Many of our solid waste transfer stations are, like many of us, relics of the 1960's, though unlike people and fine wine, transfer stations do not improve with age. We will invest in new facilities that increase operational efficiency and are better for the environment, while maintaining reasonable disposal rates.

  • Next month, I will take the unusual step of transmitting a one-year Solid Waste disposal rate. This will give cities and the County time to work in partnership on long-term commitments that will keep down the cost of garbage disposal for our ratepayers.

In his speech in 1969, Executive Spellman hailed the start of construction on an enlarged Youth Service Center. That facility has served well, but it has reached the end of its useful life, and we must find a creative way to replace it.

Here in Kent, the County operates an aging animal shelter that provides critical capacity for homeless animals.

  • This year we will work with our cities and with private partners on creative ways to ensure sheltering services can be provided into the future reliably, affordably and humanely.

Expansion of the Washington State Convention Center and support for our infrastructure of arts and culture will attract more tourists.

  • Every visitor we bring to King County spends money and provides the revenues needed to support human services, housing, public safety, and transportation.
  • Our legislation introduced by State Representative Tina Orwall of Des Moines will create thousands of good-paying construction jobs in the short term, and draw hundreds of thousands more visitors over the long term, visitors who will spend an estimated quarter-billion dollars in new money here, every year.

* * *

Of equal importance to our physical infrastructure is our social infrastructure.

  • With no general fund money for human services, and public health funding being slashed at the state level, we have to become more creative in developing support for our residents.
  • We have fought with some success in Olympia to mitigate the extreme cuts to proven life-saving and money-saving programs like maternity support and mental health services.

Five years into our Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness, the work of our many partners is helping more than 35-hundred people into housing annually.

  • This spring we are taking stock of what's worked best and what we can still do better.

We are working with veterans organizations to develop new strategies to prevent homelessness among veterans.

  • We owe our heartfelt thanks to our veterans and can show our respect and appreciation to them and their families by putting the renewal of the Veterans and Human Services Levy before voters this year.

* * *

These investments by the County in our physical and social infrastructure create the reliable foundation upon which business can build success and individuals build a future for themselves and their families.

With you I celebrate the Air Force tanker contract that was awarded to Boeing, ensuring family-wage jobs for our skilled aerospace workers.

But we also need strategies to support the development of small businesses, because we know they are the engine of long-term growth and job creation.

Just a few days ago the results of the new Census confirmed that our community is growing and embracing a rich diversity of residents from throughout the world. We need strategies that encourage business creation among historically disadvantaged populations and our new residents of King County.

We have a clear role. King County is a major regional employer, a major purchaser, and a major contractor for projects large and small.

  • I thank this Council for its support of our ongoing procurement reform effort.

Today I hope you will adopt legislation that will enable qualified small firms to use a simplified electronic system to bid on King County construction projects.

Today, I am proposing three additional small business strategies.

Earlier this month, we implemented a measure to significantly cut the paperwork for small firms that seek County certification

This week I am sending the Council an agreement with the Port of Seattle for us to share the same standards to certify small contractors and suppliers - one common standard, one common application, one common online directory. And we're working with other agencies to join us.

Ask small business owners what they need to hire more workers, and you get one answer: credit.

Today I am announcing a new revolving loan fund for small business.

  • In partnership with the Grow America Fund, we will use federal money to capitalize the Grow King County Fund and leverage it into a revolving fund of nearly $1.4 million.
  • These funds can be loaned to small businesses across King County to expand and create good jobs, paying back our initial investment manyfold into the future.

I will also honor small businesses by recognizing the best of them.

  • This year we will create a new Executive's Small Business Awards Program - in partnership with enterprise Seattle, the Workforce Development Council, and the Small Business Partners for Prosperity - to recognize and celebrate entrepreneurs who are achieving excellence and success, and who are putting people back to work.

Our own King County Jobs Initiative is a national model for linking training and jobs, preparing young adults for good-paying green jobs in environmental cleanup.

  • This program was recently honored by Governor Gregoire for helping employers get the skilled workers they need.
  • The program's longtime director is Carolyn Bledsoe, and two of her graduates from Kent are here today: Rickey Matthews, George Addison, and their case manager, Anu Wako.

* * *

I look forward to what we can accomplish in the year ahead.

The choices we make will have a lasting and profound impact. As our parents and grandparents did, we too owe it to those who come after us to be responsible, and thoughtful, and smart.

If we do our jobs right - building on the commitment to partnership and collaboration that have created the many successes we have experienced this year - we can translate our internal reforms to external results.

  • We can and we must work together, across jurisdictional lines and with common purpose, to deliver quality services that protect and enhance all of our communities and reflect the spirit and potential of our region.
  • We can provide the foundation for economic recovery and sustainable prosperity that will keep the state of our county - moving forward as one King County - strong and vibrant.

In closing, let us turn again to the words of Executive Spellman:

"Let no one be mistaken.

"King County is rich - Rich in its opportunity to meet the challenge of growth - Rich in its natural assets - Rich in its human resources - Rich in that dedicated citizenry which has repeatedly sacrificed to preserve what we value for ourselves and for generations to come.

"With these rich assets and dedication to our cause, together we shall succeed."

I couldn't agree more. Thank you.

Related information

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography