Foot Ferry
Danny Westneat asks King County whether they should spend the taxes raised last year for foot ferries to shore up the budget gap the County has right now. I asked same question of Ron Sims last time he was on KUOW’s Weekday (at the end of the hour), and Sims’ answer was that under the state constitution, the County government can repurpose the money. Westneat makes a good point about the ferry services being a special project – though I wouldn’t call them ridiculous necessarily – and another point that some of what will have to be cut are pretty dramatic:

Sheriff Sue Rahr was the one who made them wax apocalyptic. To cut $9 million, she said she’ll have to ax 29 detectives, 24 deputies, four sergeants and two marshals.

Which means cops will no longer investigate any property crime in unincorporated King County in which less than $10,000 was stolen. The domestic-violence unit will be down to three people. No more policing of drug trafficking, period. And if you call a precinct, you’ll only get voice mail because they’re cutting the people who answer the phones.

But I think Westneat’s solution is a little misguided, here’s what he wants to do:

It came to me when I realized last year’s tax increases by coincidence almost equal this year’s draconian cuts.

Why not use that money to solve this “crisis?” Why not, at the least, cancel those ridiculous foot ferries?

They are the old Mosquito Fleet walk-on ferries, between Kirkland, Renton and Seattle on Lake Washington. And Shilshole to downtown Seattle on the Sound. The council raised property taxes to reincarnate them last November.

None of these cities are on islands — a large part of why the last such ferry petered out in 1939. Each run today will carry maybe 300 riders. Yet we’re steaming ahead with it. Even as we cut 59 cops. And call it all “a recipe for disaster.”

In my mind, if we’re going to spend the foot ferry tax on something else, let’s spend it on Metro buses, since at least both are transit. Metro is dealing with it’s own budget shortfalls and at least keeping the money on transportation wouldn’t be as significant a re-purpose. In addition, those county service cuts will mostly effect unincorporated King County, while the foot ferry taxes are imposed over the whole county. I don’t like the way the taxes were imposed, in a semi-secret council vote immediately after an election, but that doesn’t mean the money should just be spent on any thing else that seems pressing today.

Ultimately, I believe Sims is trying to push these unincorporated areas that rely on the County to provide municipal services – that is, those services provide by city governments in incorporated areas – to either allow themselves to be annexed or incorporate themselves. I don’t mean that Sims is playing politics with the terrible economy, the county doesn’t have the power to move the funds from ferries to police (or to buses) because the state constitution bars them from doing so. But let me ask this question another way: why should taxpayers in the rest of the county pay for police in unincorporated areas?

Those in cities already pay for their own police forces, and subsidize the police in unincorporated King County by paying for the majority of sheriff services. We pay city taxes to get city services, and we pay county taxes to get county services. If unincorporated King County wants city-level services, they should become a city either thorugh incorporation or get annexation.

7 Replies to “Westneat: Foot Ferries “ridiculous””

  1. First of all, they wouldn’t be able to transfer the money to Sheriffs or to Metro, I don’t believe, because King County and the King County Ferry District are separate organizations. It would basically be like putting “ridiculous” Amtrak money into the Army. They can’t do that; Amtrak is a completely separate part of the government. Secondly, The Elliott Bay Water Taxi keeps breaking ridership records, and is used by quite a few people. It will definitely have decent ridership in the winter. The Vashon Island POF, also run/funded by the King County Ferry District, I’m pretty sure has good ridership too. And the other routes are demonstration routes; they will only be continued for more than one year if people actually ride them. Finally, the fact that none of these places is an island isn’t the reason that they stopped the mosquito fleet; the advent of the automobile is the real reason.

    1. Finally, the fact that none of these places is an island isn’t the reason that they stopped the mosquito fleet; the advent of the automobile is the real reason.

      Exactly. And we stopped the streetcars for the same reason. OR almost the same reason.

  2. Where’s your compassion? They don’t deserve police because they live in unincorporated King County?

  3. I would just like to point out that the police won’t do much about theft anyway. If your stuff is stolen, go look for it yourself or consider it gone.

    As for the drug enforcement, well, maybe more money will be saved if they’re not putting pot-smokers in jail. That costs $2500 for the booking, and $25,000/year for incarceration, not to mention other costs like unemployment, family breakup etc.

    And why shouldn’t you get a voice-mail when you call the precinct? Is there anyone alive who doesn’t know you dial 911 for emergencies?

    All this talk about public safety is just meant to scare us, when, in reality, we’d be a lot safer if people who have been drinking could take a bus home.

    The real public safety will come from clustering housing, social services, and businesses on transit spines in energy-efficient buildings. All part of why Europe has a lot less people in jail than we do.

  4. If you want the foot ferry curtailed from W.Seattle, get Mayor NIckels to back off. It’s his baby, start to finish. Also, the funding doesn’t come out of the W.Sub Area formula, so Seattle doesn’t have to pay ‘full stroke’ for it.
    Not sure what he traded Ron for it all these years as a “demo”, but I’m sure Greg will want his end of the deal back.

  5. A couple thoughts–the foot ferry has nothing to do with Greg Nickels. It’s a county ferry district and the city is only involved peripherally.

    Also, sorry to burst your bubble, Westneat, but Andrew is right that state law doesn’t allow the county to raid ferry district money to balance the county budget. A law was passed specifically granting counties the authority to form ferry districts with separate property taxing authority and that taxing authority cannot be transferred from the ferry district to the county, whether it’s for public safety or for Metro buses. “It came to me,” he says. Well lots of good ideas come to me too about how local governments should do things differently but they have to do them within the auspices of state law.

    And in what sense, Andrew, was the ferry district established by “semi-secret vote”? The Council had been discussing it for months. And they authorized it “weeks after the election” because that’s when the County charter requires that they put together their budget.

    1. Also, to be more clear–the Ferry District wasn’t imposed at the time of the County budget. It had existed for months. The levy rate was set then, however.

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