Deep budget cuts are possible Sheriff: 100 deputies may go

Slashes in the King County budget may force Sheriff Sue Rahr to cut as many as 100 deputies from the roster.

Slashes in the King County budget may force Sheriff Sue Rahr to cut as many as 100 deputies from the roster.

Twelve cities, including Covington and Maple Valley, contract with the Sheriff Department to provide local law enforcement.

In addition to covering 2,000 square miles of King County and providing direct service for about 500,000 residents, the department provides support services such as the SWAT team, computer investigation specialists, air support using the county’s helicopter, and specialized police service teams such as those serving Metro Transit.

The county’s 2009 budget has a predicted budget shortfall of $60 million, which means that Rahr has been asked to cut $10 million from her department’s budget during the remainder of this year and in 2009, Rahr said.

“About 4 percent of my budget is truly discretionary,” she said, explaining that of that 4 percent, about half has some spending requirements. So, for the Sheriff Department to cut $10 million, Rahr said she’ll be forced to cut 100 deputy positions.

“We’re pretty panicked,” she said while speaking at a meeting of the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce in April. Sammamish is another of the cities that contracts with the county for police services.

Like other county departments, the Sheriff Department has been through the budget-cutting process before.

“I know that there’s not any fat left,” Rahr said. “I expect that it’s going to be pretty volatile in the coming months.”

In Covington, part of the revenue from a city utility tax on residents and businesses is intended to pay for additional police resources, including two officer positions. Before the City Council approved the tax last November, officials noted Covington has a ratio of less than one officer per 1,000 residents, while the average for other police departments countywide is 1.5 officers per 1,000 residents.

Covington and Maple Valley have chiefs who oversee the police departments staffed through the Sheriff Department.

Other cities contracting with the county include Newcastle, North Bend, Beaux Arts, Burien, Kenmore, Seatac, Shoreline, Skykomish and Woodinville. The Muckleshoot Tribe and King County International Airport (Boeing Field) also have contracted police service.

During her speech in Sammamish, Rahr also said she’s working to get the County Council to add an amendment during its charter review process that would give the sheriff more control during negotiations with labor unions.

“I’m proposing that the sheriff be the bargainer for the Sheriff Department instead of the county executive,” Rahr said. It’s difficult for her to manage her workforce while having to work through County Executive Ron Sims as the bargaining agent, she claimed.

“Issues come up all the time related to the contract,” Rahr said, noting that a number of former county executives and the Sheriff’s Blue Ribbon Panel, an advisory group, have endorsed the proposed amendment. Seven out of 10 council members support the proposal, she added.

“You need to have a professional law enforcement agency that you can rely on,” Rahr said. “It really boils down to common sense. I need the authority to be able to manage the outcomes in my department.”

The county charter is reviewed once every 10 years, and 10 charter amendments are under consideration by the council now.

“This is a great opportunity to participate in democracy,” she said, urging county residents to contact the charter review commission or County Council members.

The Issaquah-Sammamish Reporter contributed to this report.