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County Executive outlines reforms to make county more efficient

King County Executive Dow Constantine says reforms to make government more efficient and improved infrastructure will put the county in position to rebound as the economy recovers.

Constantine unfurled his plan Monday during his State of the County address at a special Committee of the Whole meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council on the third-floor rotunda at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.

"We are encouraging all of our employees to 'Be the Difference,' by giving them the tools to improve the quality and lower the cost of what they deliver," Constantine said. "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 quality of what's produced."

Constantine credited the partnership of county employees and unions for helping to get through deep budget cuts last year, but to still find ways to provide services.

"The men and women who serve on our front lines stepped up last year to protect services to the public," he said. "From corrections officers to court personnel, 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 today thank you."

Several unions agreed to forego cost-of-living increases for 2011 to help the county save money.

Constantine said future transportation projects will help create jobs and provide much-needed repairs. The projects he mentioned include a new South Park Bridge in South Seattle, a deep-bore tunnel for the Highway 99 corridor through Seattle and the replacement of the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington.

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

Constantine also announced that county election operations will move back to Renton from Seattle as a step to show confidence that the ongoing repairs at Howard Hanson Dam will keep the Green River Valley cities of Kent, Auburn, Renton and Tukwila safe from flooding.

"Today, we are casting a vote of confidence in this community," Constantine said, to an audience that filled the rotunda. "Elections Director Sherril Huff and I agree, it is safe and it is time for King County to move Elections back to its state-of-the-art facility in Renton. We are announcing that Election headquarters will return to the Green River Valley in June."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to work to repair the dam after a January 2009 storm damaged an abutment next to the dam that limited the capacity of the dam's reservoir. The corps expects to complete repairs by the end of 2012.

"A year ago, we were evacuating county facilities in the Green River Valley," Constantine said. "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."

As another way to help the county cut costs, Constantine plans to propose to the County Council the sale of the Aukeen District Courthouse along Central Avenue in Kent to the city of Kent.

"Right here in Kent, the county owns the Aukeen District Courthouse and shares space there with the city," he said. "But the city needs to expand its Municipal Court. Rather than having Kent spend $7 million for expansion, I am sending our Council a proposal to sell the Aukeen building to Kent and consolidate our District Court proceedings here at the Maleng Regional Justice Center."

The county will ask for $6 million from Kent for the facility.

"It's one of many examples where we are attempting to better cooperate with our cities to get efficiencies for all the residents in the county whether it's through jail planning, animal services or the justice system," Constantine said during an interview after his speech.

Steve Hunter is a staff writer with the Kent Reporter. He can be contacted at 253-872-6600, ext. 5052.

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