King County Metro, which provides bus and transit service throughout the county, is facing a nearly $400 million drop in revenue over the next three years. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov

King County Metro, which provides bus and transit service throughout the county, is facing a nearly $400 million drop in revenue over the next three years. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov

COVID-19 budget woes hit King County

Several critical programs are facing significant shortfalls.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures enacted by the state have been hitting King County coffers hard.

Revenue projections through 2022 are grim for several funds, including Metro and the county’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) services.

Metro, which provides bus and transit service throughout the county, is facing a nearly $400 million drop in revenue over the next three years.

MIDD is expected to see a $42 million reduction — roughly a 27 percent decrease in total funding — over the same period.

There’s also a projected $79 million shortfall in the county’s general fund, which pays for several programs and departments.

“Unless we get federal support that will help us offset our revenue losses, we are going to be in for a very difficult (2021-22) biennial budget,” said Dwight Dively, the county’s budget director, at a May 5 Committee of the Whole meeting.

And those estimates are likely less severe than the actual economic impacts will be, he said. The county depends on sales and property taxes for much of its revenue. As residents have been forced to stay inside and businesses have shuttered, the county’s funding has dropped.

Metro faces another funding challenge as fares were eliminated in late March due to COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic hit, the county was struggling to find a way to fund road and bridge maintenance. The county’s Local Services department was short $250 million annually for these services.

The federal government awarded the county more than $260 million in emergency funds as part of the CARES Act. The money was initially slated to go toward COVID-19 response costs. However, earlier this week, the federal government indicated that other areas of county government that have been used or repurposed to fight the outbreak may be eligible for the funding. Dively hopes to reimburse as much cost as possible from state and federal funds.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn asked whether the $79 million projected shortfall in the budget would need to be addressed this fall. Dively said the county has enough reserves to cover the costs this year, but he doesn’t know if budget cuts will become necessary in the latter half of the year.

Those cuts could come sooner for MIDD programs. The only source of the program, which provides critical support for people with mental health and addiction issues, is a 0.1 % sales tax. Budget cuts could come to the program this summer.

The committee also discussed a second emergency funding ordinance that will come before the county council next week. The ordinance would provide more than $54 million in funding and loans to agencies and organizations. The first such ordinance provided $27.4 million in early March.

This ordinance, on top of funding county departments and functions, would provide $13 million in loans to support tourism, arts and culture and homeless youth activities. The loans would be paid through future revenue from the lodging tax.

It also includes $2 million for a relief program for small businesses in unincorporated King County.

Much of the funding in the ordinance would come from state and federal money that will be available from the CARES Act.


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