In the span of just 26 minutes, King County Councilman Reagan Dunn touched on topics as diverse as pandemic response, county spending, law enforcement and homelessness.
His comments came the evening of Oct. 26 during a presentation to the Enumclaw City Council. In keeping with current practice, nearly all in attendance were doing so on a remote basis.
Dunn fills the District 9 seat on the King County Council, representing a varied swath of county turf that extends from Bellevue on the north to Enumclaw on the south.
Dunn opened his comments with the No. 1 issue of the day, the COVID-19 pandemic and, specifically, how the ongoing crisis has impacted the county.
Focusing on “economic misery,” the council veteran noted how quickly things have gone sour since the early part of the year. “We were at historic low levels of unemployment,” he said, “and in just a couple of weeks we were into depression-era level unemployment.”
The workforce situation is getting better, Dunn reported, “but we’re still not out of the woods when it comes to unemployment.”
With regard to the virus itself, Dunn said an ongoing effort is to track the county’s response and effectiveness. Information to be compiled will show “the things we did right and things we did wrong so we can leave a roadmap for future generations,” he said.
During these uncertain times, all jurisdictions are tasked with preparing their annual budgets – or, in King County’s case, a 2021-22 biennial budget. Dunn acknowledged the county is reeling in some areas due to a public health crisis that has come in waves.
“There’s a big hole we need to fill as a result of sales tax revenue,” he said, echoing the difficulties facing government at all levels.
Dunn noted his displeasure with the budget proposal recently forwarded to County Executive Dow Constantine. “It’s got some problems,” Dunn said. “It’s good, it’s bad, it’s terrible in some ways.”
One area Dunn disagrees with is a proposal to use money from the county’s “rainy day” fund to purchase hotel rooms that would be made available, during the pandemic, to those experiencing homelessness.
“It’s broader than that,” Dunn said, noting that the program could wind up as a permanent offering.
“I want to put you on notice that this could happen quickly because there’s so much money there,” Dunn said, reminding that Enumclaw’s limited number of hotels wouldn’t necessarily be off-limits to county efforts.
The county councilman also addressed a recent move by his council peers to enact a sales tax increase (one-tenth of 1 percent) that will fund permanent housing for those who are chronically homeless.
The final tally was 8-1 in support of the tax hike, with Dunn the lone dissenting vote.
“They jammed it through in just a couple of weeks,” he said, claiming the council has no firm plan other that following the lead of downtown Seattle, “which isn’t working very well.”
Overall, Dunn said, “I’m not happy with the direction we’re going with respect to tax increases in a down economy.”
Also on the subject of county spending, Dunn said he had proposed a hiring freeze. The suggestion was rejected, he said, and King County “continues to hire pretty aggressively in a lot of areas.”
Continuing to talk dollars and cents, Dunn warned of potential impacts stemming from the county council’s stance on policing.
“Another scary area is the county sheriff’s budget” he said, explaining a desire by some to slash funding by $6.2 million, a move that could reduce Cities like Enumclaw are safe within their borders due to local police departments, he said, but “outside your city limits you’re not going to have the service you once had.”
“We have seen a pretty darn big increase in crime,” Dunn said, at a time when there has been “a dramatic escalation in the lack of enforcement of our laws.”