The newest member of the King County Council says he wants to create a dedicated source of funding for human services in King County.
“I know from personal experience that if you can get a little help, if you get a little support, that can make a difference,” said King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski. He was appointed to replace outgoing District 1
Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who was elected State Attorney General in November.
Dembowski, who has highlighted his modest upbringing in Renton, said as a child he got care from a King County health clinic and free dental service at the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry.
Things have changed since the 41-year-old real estate lawyer was a kid. The county human services budget, financed through the general fund, is a fraction of the size it was six years ago. In 2006, the county allotted $26.5 million to human services. This year, the budget is less than $1 million.
“I think with all of the wealth that we [King County] have, that we can do better than that,” Dembowski said.
He is promoting a three-tenths of one cent sales tax for human services. A bill now in Olympia would allow counties to create such a tax without voter approval. The bill has an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, so Dembowski is prepared to bring the proposal to voters in 2014.
First, however, he’ll have to get re-elected.
Five councilmembers voted for Dembowski to replace Ferguson in District 1, which encompasses north King County, including Shoreline and North Seattle. Dembowski beat out two other finalists, Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, and Shoreline Councilmember Will Hall.
Ryu has already started to campaign for the position, which comes up for a vote in November 2013. Dembowski does not have the same name recognition as Ryu, a state representative and former mayor of Shoreline, but he will have the advantage of running as an incumbent.
And Dembowski, who works at the downtown firm Foster Pepper, touts his civic experience. He has worked on several levy campaigns and in county organizations and trade groups, including the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the King County Districting Committee and the King County Performance Measurement Oversight Committee. In the mid-1990s, he worked as policy analyst for then-County Executive Gary Locke.