ANN DORNFELD: I'm Ann Dornfeld in King County, Washington. There's nothing clinical about this county-funded public-health clinic. Toddlers rump around colorful salmon sculptures. Cheerful nurses help low-income families with vaccinations, check ups, and food vouchers.
Unidentified Woman: I can say you're good to go for three months, and then you just give us a call in December, and then we'll get...
DORFELD: This clinic is pretty modern and bustling, and it's slated to close in June. That's because the county is facing a $93 million budget shortfall. Like most counties, King County relies heavily on property and sales taxes. Until recently, the region's economy was booming.
Microsoft kept growing, and a weak dollar helped Boeing sell more planes overseas. New residents flooded the region, so the housing market in King County stayed strong, even as foreclosures mounted across the country. But county executive, Ron Sim, says the slowdown has caught up with them.
Mr. RON SIM (County Executive, King County): So, what we see is retail sales have fallen, home sales have not grown as anticipated, new-home construction is not occurring to any significant degree. The result is, its really had a significant impact upon our revenues.
DORNFELD: Housing prices in King County dropped six percent just from August to September. Twenty-five thousand Boeing machinists have been on strike for more than a month. Then in September, Seattle-based bank, Washington Mutual, was shut down by federal regulators.
The bank employs nearly 6,000 people in Washington, most in King County. Layoffs are guaranteed. To help balance the budgets, Sim's laid off several hundred county workers. Hundreds more face possible layoff in the next nine months.
Sim says the county budget was already lean, so all that was left to cut were what he terms essential services, like public health and public safety.
Mr. SIMS: I divided cuts in the two categories actually. Those that were in moral and those that were unconscionable. There were no good cuts.
DORNFELD: King County is just one example of what's happening to counties nationwide. Jacqueline Byers is director of research at the National Association of Counties. She says counties are getting hit from every direction.
Ms. JACQUELINE BYERS (Director of Research, National Association of Counties): They are economically in probably the worse situation that I've ever seen in the 30 years I've been working with local governments.
DORNFELD: In King County, more budget cuts are projected for the next two years. Not only will it take time for the economy to recover, but Jacqueline Byers says there's an 18-month lag time between what happens in the wider economy, and when a county feels the burn. For NPR News, I'm Ann Dornfeld in King County, Washington.
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