Biennial Budget 2021-2022
King County has a two year budget. The current budget expires at the end of 2020, the Executive has handed off a proposed budget to the Council, and the Council has begun hearings with a target date of November for completion. The proposed budget has cutbacks in almost every area, with only a few places marked for increased spending; this is due to revenue shortfalls caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Metro has suspended about 400,000 hours of service in response to ridership declines during the pandemic. The budget has funding to restore all these hours in 2021, but hours will only be added back when demand increases. Metro is currently identifying criteria that will be used to make these service restoration decisions.
Metro has projected future ridership as on a permanently lowered curve; they are expecting ridership this year to be half of original projections, next year's ridership reduced by two thirds relative to pre-Covid expectations, and future years show growth from that point at 7% per year. They are not expecting a bounce back. It is possible that reducing service hours will cause these low projections to be a fait accompli; that is a discussion point in the council. Half of Metro's fare-box revenues come from large employers. As employers tell employees they may work from home, its unclear whether the employers will continue to pay for passes. This is one of the reasons Metro has been conservative on forecasting revenue and ridership. It may therefore be necessary for Metro to consider changing its funding model. Council seems willing to consider changing the funding model.
The budget includes continued development of three RapidRide lines: Delridge to enter service in 2021, Madison in 2023, and Renton/Kent/Auburn in 2023. Other planned RapidRides have been deferred. Overall, Metro’s proposed six-year capital budget is reduced by about 30 percent compared to previous assumptions.
The budget includes $270 million between 2021 and 2028 for bus electrification, funded with a mix of cash and debt. Forty electric buses are scheduled to be purchased in 2021-2022 and will use new charging infrastructure being installed at South Base. An additional 260 electric buses are scheduled to be purchased by 2028. Current forecasts show that new sources of funding will be needed by 2028 to fully electrify the bus fleet.
Starting this fall, Metro will introduce a free fare program, known as the New Subsidized Annual Pass Program, for very-low-income individuals. The new program will be studied in 2021 for possible expansion in 2022. A fare increase previously assumed for the 2021-2022 biennium will be deferred until 2023 to encourage renewed growth in transit ridership.
Metro's budget does not include possible revenues from Seattle's Special Transportation Benefit District. If this ballot measure passes, King County will adopt a supplemental budget for Metro. Even if it passes, service hours will be reduced relative to we had before the pandemic.
Other Climate Related Budget Items
The budget includes 242 capital projects that are incorporating green building standards, including projects that meet the Living Building Challenge. One position is proposed to be converted to a full-time position for working on building code updates and overseeing the green building program from the Strategic Climate Action Plan.
The budget includes two new positions in the Department of Natural Resources. One is for an Environmental Affairs Officer to oversee County legislative work on environmental initiatives and complex projects. The other is for Green Jobs Program Manager to lead the Green Jobs Strategy, identified for inclusion in the Strategic Climate Action Plan. There is also funding earmarked to support green jobs recruiting in the Department of Human Resources, and to adjust the Climate Cost Share budget to address the work plan approved by the Climate Leadership Team.
The budget includes a full-time position for an Energy Wastewater Engineer who will look for ways to reduce energy use in operations in water treatment.
There is a new full time Sustainability Specialist to handle mandates for building in a green way from the Green Building Ordinance and the Strategic Climate Action Plan; the specialist would ensure compliance with the new rules.
The county has $2 million from the sales of gas from the landfill, which will be reinvested in GHG reduction. Planned actions for this investment would include the purchase of electric vehicles, improvements to the landfill gas collection systems at the Cedar Hills Landfill, and the purchase of "green diesel" to fuel the Division's fleet. the Division plans to replace nine of the 18 diesel terminal trucks with battery electric trucks. These vehicles move full and empty trailers at the transfer stations. Additionally, the Division plans to pilot the use of a battery electric transfer truck to haul garbage from the transfer station to the landfill. According to Executive staff, data from the pilot would be used to map the transition away from diesel powered trucks and by 2025, the Division will have the information necessary to start replacing all diesel-powered transfer trucks that go to surplus with battery electric trucks. Executive staff further note that if the market can provide the appropriately sized transfer trucks by 2026, the Division's transfer truck fleet could be fully electric by 2030.
Future Budget Impacts – Long Term Deficits
The budget references a few areas where there has been long term lack of maintenance in existing infrastructure, and there is a significant backlog. Probably the biggest area for this is roads and bridges. All the bridges are undergoing reevaluation to see if they need to be downgraded. At the beginning of the year the county was planning to add a ballot measure to raise funding for addressing some of the backlog, but with the pandemic this was deferred.
There is also a concern around a growing backlog in pipes and pumps, and significant investment required to reduce combined sewer outflows. It is also possible that new regulations on wastewater could require very large capital investments.