May 29, 2020
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
I am sending along another weekly update on our efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as efforts King County is undertaking to support those who have suffered from its impact and our efforts to support economic recovery here in the county.
Last week I wrote to you about the incredible work of EastWest Food Rescue. For those who missed the story, in late April, Bothell community member George Ahearn learned that farmers in his Eastern Washington hometown of Othello were prepared to destroy crops that they were unable to distribute because of the pandemic. George knew so many of his neighbors in King County were struggling and could use help, so he alerted community members and within days EastWest Food Rescue came together to save produce and deliver it to those in need. In less than a month since its inception, the EastWest Food Rescue has saved and delivered over 300 tons of produce, serving 70 thousand households in need.
I received so much community interest and positive feedback from the story, that I wanted to provide another update. Last Friday I joined a crew of volunteers, including Kenmore Mayor David Baker and Woodinville Mayor Elaine Cook, on the now weekly food rescue mission to Othello. The convoy included three trucks from King County, and trucks from private businesses as well. It was a spirit-lifting day of volunteering and I enjoyed the opportunity to drive 10,000 pounds of beautiful Washington red onions from Othello back to King County. We topped off supplies at the Northshore senior center that day.
Rod and Kenmore Mayor David Baker on last Friday’s EastWest Food Rescue trip to Othello.
If you’d like to learn more or volunteer for the EastWest Food Rescue, please visit their website or Facebook page, and here is KIRO 7’s story on last Friday’s rescue mission.
I’ve included detailed updates below on the County’s emergency COVID-19 budget response, an update on the proposed sewer rate increase that I wrote to you about last week, and other helpful information.
I want to thank you for all of your efforts to work together to combat this virus. It has been a very challenging time for many and I know that difficult times are still ahead. I am working on efforts to restart our economy as soon as safely possible. King County will be there to support employees, businesses and non-profit organizations as we get back on our feet.
Like always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.
New data dashboard from Public Health on key indicators of COVID-19 activity
This week, Public Health - Seattle & King County announced a new data dashboard that provides a snapshot of key indicators related to COVID-19 disease activity, testing capacity, and healthcare system status. Public Health says this data will be useful to help guide decisions about whether restrictions and precautions are adequate, or whether they need to be strengthened or carefully relaxed. The new dashboard can be found here: https://publichealthinsider.com/2020/05/27/public-health-publishes-new-covid-19-key-indicators-dashboard/
Additionally the King County Public Health dashboard shows 55 new cases and 3 additional deaths yesterday, May 28:
Federal CARES Act Next Steps
As I have reported in past e-newsletters, the Federal Government has allocated $262 million to King County from the CARES Act. There are limitations on what the funds can be used for, including that they may only be used for costs related to COVID-19 pandemic response, and they cannot be used to replace lost revenue. Some of the CARES Act funding will cover the County’s costs in responding to the pandemic and some has already been designated for economic relief efforts as we have previously reported, but a good portion of the funds has not yet been allocated.
Earlier this week, the Council passed a motion stating our priorities for the remaining portion of the CARES Act funds. Our highest priority is ensuring we are able to deliver on our responsibility to protect and improve the health of our residents. Public Health must be prepared in the case of a potential second wave of COVID-19 cases.
I have advocated to build out a nation-leading testing and contact tracing system here in King County. I believe this will be essential to advance and expedite a full reopening of our economy while ensuring public safety. I am also pushing strongly to enhance our vaccination infrastructure. I have worked on this as a former Chair of the Board of Health to increase HPV vaccination rates in King County and know that our system could use reinforcements. When the vaccination is developed and available, I want to make sure that King County is ready to quickly and broadly distribute it.
After fully funding our public health needs, the Council agreed that meeting residents’ basic needs in terms of food access and security as well as housing stability and homelessness services be prioritized. In addition, economic recovery and mental and behavioral health are the remaining top priorities for these federal dollars.
As Vice-Chair of the Budget committee, I am serving on the four member COVID-19 Leadership Team that drafted this motion. We anticipate the Executive will transmit his third COVID related omnibus budget on June 11th. The budget will then be heard in the County’s Committee of the Whole and acted on by the Council. We will continue to provide updates through our e-newsletter. I welcome your feedback and suggestions on how to spend these limited, one-time dollars.
Unincorporated King County Business Grants
Growing up, I worked in my dad‘s general merchandise store in downtown Kent. I learned to stock shelves, sweep the floor, wash the windows, and run the cash register. I understand the difference between a strong day of sales and a day of light sales. My dad ran his store for 20 years, through the Boeing bust, the oil crisis, construction that shut down streets, and multiple recessions. As a business owner, I know that you can do everything right but factors beyond your control can lead to failure. This is the condition facing tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of employees in King County.
I have been moved by the many small business owners and workers who have reached out to me in recent weeks to share their challenges. For me, small business support and working to get them back online is a high priority.
Rod at his Dad’s Kent, WA store, ~ 1977
Rod washing the store windows, Meeker Street, Kent, WA ~1977
Part of the county’s work in this effort includes grants to help small businesses get through these unprecedented times. Our recent budget includes a King County Small Business Assistance Program offering $5,000 grants to businesses.
We know it’s small, family owned businesses that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. While it’s a relatively small amount, I hope these funds may help these businesses keep the lights on and survive this unprecedented challenging time.
To be eligible, a business must:
• Be active and licensed in the state of Washington, with a physical business address in unincorporated King County
• Have no more than 15 employees
• Have been in business for at least three years as of Jan. 1, 2020
• Have gross revenues of up to $1.5 million per year
• Have received no other COVID-19 related aid from any federal, state, or other nonprofit agency.
Details about when and how to apply, and how to get technical and non-English language assistance, will be added to this county website as soon as it’s available.
This program for unincorporated businesses is part of King County’s role as a local government where there is no city government. I successfully included $3 million in funding for chambers of commerce direct grants to cities to support economic recovery efforts in our incorporated areas in this budget.
Wrong Time to Hike Sewer Rates on Struggling Residents and Businesses
Last week I wrote to you about my opposition to the Executive-proposed 4.5% sewer rate increase. King County has an obligation to carefully balance its responsibility to manage our regional wastewater system and to guide our region through this global health and economic crisis. I firmly believe that now is not the time to add to the economic burden so many families and businesses are facing. We should first exhaust all options to reduce costs before we raise rates and fees during these unprecedented economic times. The government has reasonably (in my view) banned increases in rent and prohibited evictions during this time. It is ironic that the county would raise people’s utility rates while preventing others from doing the same.
For that reason, I proposed a one-year delay of the Executive-proposed 4.5% sewer rate increase. I believe the division could find $19 million in savings in a $500 million annual budget; in fact, I identified the savings in non-mandatory programming for them. I am sorry to report that the Council voted 6-3 to approve a sewer rate increase that will take effect in 2021, rather than wait an additional year to raise rates.
The Metropolitan Water Pollution Abatement Advisory Committee, several cities and numerous elected officials recommended that King County authorize a zero percent rate increase for 2021. The Council rejected the request from these partners, who have previously supported regular rate increases.
It’s unfortunate that King County will add to hardships that folks will be facing in the year ahead as we try to recover from this crisis and get the economy restarted. I will continue to look for ways to help support small businesses and residents recover financially and not add to their burdens.
Reminder – Property Tax Deadline
Earlier this year we extended the deadline for payment of the first half of your 2020 property tax bill. That first-half payment is due by Monday, June 1st. You can pay online here.
If you elected to delay payment of property taxes from the traditional April 30 deadline, I wanted to call this revised deadline to your attention because it falls on the first of the month, rather than the last day of the month.
For those struggling to pay property taxes during this time, we are looking into whether additional flexible payment plans can be developed. There are some state law limitations in this regard, but we are doing what we can to respond to property owners who are facing economic challenges.
Thank you for taking time to read this update. As always, please contact my office at 206-477-1001 or email me at email@example.com if we can be of any assistance.