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King County Executive
Dow Constantine

Executive Constantine balances budget and preserves services by achieving $60 million in efficiencies and introducing new Lean practices


With a reform agenda that has created $60 million of efficiencies and introduced Lean business practices, King County Executive Dow Constantine today proposed a balanced 2013/2014 budget that funds most County services at current levels, despite sharply limited growth in the economy.


Executive Constantine balances budget and preserves services by achieving $60 million in efficiencies and introducing new Lean practices

Urges reform by state Legislature of outdated local revenue structures for transit and roads

With a reform agenda that has created $60 million of efficiencies and introduced Lean business practices, King County Executive Dow Constantine today proposed a balanced 2013/2014 budget that funds most County services at current levels, despite sharply limited growth in the economy.

“This is a budget that manages those things we have within our control, and accounts for events beyond our authority,” said Executive Constantine in his budget address to the Metropolitan King County Council. “We balanced this budget not by raising taxes, not by cutting services, but by creating efficiencies and engaging in a philosophy and a methodology for continuous improvement.”

The proposed General Fund budget is $684 million, increase of 2.75 percent below inflation and 0.5 percent over last year’s equivalent budget of $680 million. A reform of business practice to more accurately include $25 million of debt service as an expense in the General Fund accounts for the change from the $655 General Fund figure adopted last year.

With the continued transition to a biennial, two-year budget for nearly all agencies except those in the General Fund and a few others, the total budget is a hybrid annual/biennial number of $7.6 Billion. Annual spending in 2013 is expected to be about the same $4.4 Billion as in 2012.

EFFICIENCIES: Rather than saving money by reducing service, the Executive’s reform agenda calls for saving service by reducing cost – providing the same level of service with just three percent less growth in costs. The total biennial budget includes $60 million in efficiencies:

  • $8 million in operational efficiencies,
  • $14 million in health care savings, and
  • $38 million in cost avoidance.

Of that $60 million, $11 million of the efficiencies are in the General Fund. Among the dozens of efficiencies in this budget are:

  • $700,000 saved by consolidating computer servers from across all agencies into the County Data Center in Tukwila.
  • $385,000 saved by not buying 1,400 desktop computers that agencies decided they could do without.
  • $406,000 saved by standardizing the layout of Public Health clinics in White Center, Kent, and Renton so they use space more efficiently and enable better service at lower cost.  
  • $76,000 by standardizing equipment at sewer plants so fewer brands of spare parts are needed, and $66,000 by better estimating the amount of industrial bleach it takes to disinfect wastewater. 

LEAN: In partnership with Boeing and Group Health, and with the support of the Council, the Executive established a Continuous Improvement team that is three months into its work. Early results of Lean pilots include:

  • The Sheriff’s office – from patrol officers to command staff – cut its use of overtime by $500,000 by using zone-policing to deploy deputies more efficiently. With those savings the Sheriff is able to fill vacancies and put more police on the street.
  • The Elections Office condensed 10 paper forms for ballot processing into one electronic database, and reconfigured building space and workstations for a more efficient workflow, just in time for the presidential election.
  • Appraisers in the Assessor’s Office now use iPads to enter their data in the field and automatically match property photos with the correct parcel file, improving accuracy and saving 8,500 hours a year.

HUMAN SERVICES:  This budget provides $73 million in locally-generated operating funds for human services – for housing, treatment, employment and veterans services, and to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

TRANSPORTATION: The system for funding county roads across the state hasn’t been revisited in 25 years and no longer works. Metro Transit has temporary funding authority that expires in mid-2014. King County is now seeing the consequences of legislative inaction earlier this year on sustainable funding for transit and roads.

The County Road Fund is supported mostly by the local property tax, through a separate Roads levy capped at $2.25 per thousand dollars of assessed value. Over the past four years, a combination of economic factors has led to a 20 percent decline in the Road Fund, from $122 million in 2010 to $98 million in 2013:

  • The average homeowner will pay roughly $90 less in 2013 for road services than in 2009, due to a 44 percent drop in the value of property assessments in unincorporated King County, a value that includes the losses from annexations.
  • The success of state-mandated growth management and the resulting annexation of urban unincorporated areas into cities has left a dramatically smaller unincorporated area and a correspondingly shrunken base of revenues.
  • Declines in revenues from the gas tax, due in part by more fuel-efficient vehicles, have also hurt the Road Fund.

The County has not seen a proportional drop in its responsibility for repairing, maintaining, and replacing 1,500 miles of roads, bridges, and culverts. Roads in the county’s rural area are some of the oldest in the system, and are the most vulnerable to winds, floods and snow storms, running as they do alongside rivers and streams, through heavily wooded areas and at higher elevations.

Without state action on local transportation funding earlier this year, the consequence to the King County budget is the proposed reduction of about 60 essential roads workers in early 2013. If no state action is taken in the next legislative session, another 21 additional positions are proposed for reduction in mid-2013, and at least 30 more in 2014.

If all the cuts are absorbed, the King County Roads Services Division will have eliminated about 226 positions since 2009, or 38 percent of its entire workforce.

The Executive today proposed three modest measures to protect the King County Road Fund and preserve some roads services:

  • Paying the first two years of debt service on the new South Park Bridge from excess bond reserves, instead of from the Road Fund.
  • Ending the long-held practice of using the Road Fund to support a special police motorcycle unit for the unincorporated areas. With urban areas being annexed into cities and less traffic to enforce, the Sheriff is able to assign those deputies to regular patrols.
  • Taking advantage of excellent credit and historically low bond rates to accelerate needed work on stormwater control projects on rural roads.

A fourth measure is the one tool left to counties by the Legislature – the Transportation Benefit District, already created by the King County Council in 2010, with the authority to assess a $20 vehicle fee in the county’s unincorporated areas. The District’s governing board is comprised of members of the Council. The fee would raise $4.5 million against the $50- to $65-million a year required just to keep the County’s 1,500 mile road system drivable.

The Executive sent the Council legislation to revise the boundary of the Transportation Benefit District to include only the remaining unincorporated area of King County, along with a plan that shows how revenues raised in the unincorporated areas would be spent to maintain roads and bridges in the unincorporated areas.

“The fee won’t be enough, not by a long shot. But it’s the only remaining authority left to counties by the Legislature,” said the Executive. “The system for funding local transportation in Washington State is broken. Everybody knows it. We have a 1930s revenue system to fund 21st century transportation needs.”

While the public rallied last year to save bus service, and the Council enacted the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge which the state authorized only for King County, the two-year fee will expire in mid-2014, once again leading to devastating service reductions.

The Executive said he would work with members of the County Council and with city partners to bring to the next session of the Legislature a proposal for a modern revenue structure, one that adequately and fairly funds the transportation that people and the economy need.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The commitment to justice and safety in this budget remains at 73 percent of the General Fund, when the 2012 General Fund is adjusted to account for debt service as described above. This budget expands the Prosecutor’s “Program 180” pilot to provide services and mentors to help juvenile offenders stay out of the system. The budget continues on an ongoing basis several gang prevention programs, funded on a one-time basis last year from the criminal justice reserve, that are proving successful.

ADULT DETENTION: As previously reported, the reduction by the state of Washington in its use of local jail beds will mean fewer inmates in County jails and will contribute $9.4 million to an overall $13 million drop in revenues that support King County jail operations. The loss of revenues requires the reduction of 46 positions at the jail in the proposed budget. The Executive is working closely with the King County Corrections Guild and other labor representatives to meet the shared goal of achieving personnel reductions without layoffs while balancing the budget and preserving safety.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Under federal health care reform more funding is expected to be available for Public Health in 2014, so bridge funding is budgeted for one more year for key prevention services that tackle the leading causes of premature death – tobacco prevention and obesity prevention.

ENVIORONMENT: This budget continues to preserve recreation and open space, with funds included for realizing the long-held vision of permanent public ownership for the former BNSF Eastside Rail Corridor.

PERMITTING: The reform of the Department of Development and Environmental Services continues in this budget with new customer-service measures, a move to Snoqualmie to bring the agency closer to its rural customer base, and a new name that plainly says what it does – the Department of Permitting and Environmental Review.

ENERGY PLAN: King County’s 2010 Energy Plan set a goal of reducing energy use in County buildings by 10 percent as part of an overall effort to make the County more financially and environmentally sustainable. This budget advances that goal with investments in energy-efficient equipment and energy audits. The plan is generating $2 million in annual savings at places like:

  • The Bellevue Transit Base, where energy use is down 4 percent in the past year and 20 percent compared to 2007, for a savings of $16,000 a year.
  • The King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way, where energy use is down by 15 percent in the past year and 25 percent compared to 2007, for a savings of $37,000 a year.

The King County Council plans a number of public hearings on the budget and is set to adopt a final 2013/2014 King County Budget in November.  

 The Executive’s budget address can be seen in its entirety on King County TV via streaming video at and on Comcast and Broadstripe Cable Channel 22 at the following times:


Monday, Sept. 24

7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 25

9:30 a.m. & 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Sept. 26

12:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, Sept. 27

12 noon & 6:00 p.m.


Read more about the 2013/2014 Executive Proposed Budget at

Related Information

Watch Executive Constantine's 2013 budget speech

King County Executive
Dow Constantine
Dow constantine portrait

Read the Executive's biography