Reflecting back on her first stint as the King County Council Budget Committee Chairwoman Jeanne Kohl-Welles cannot guess how many meetings she has attended.

This is the first biennial budget cycle Kohl-Welles chaired the King County Council Budget Committee, and she said it was much more challenging than she had anticipated.

“When I agreed to become budget chair last January, of course I had no idea we would be facing a pandemic,” she said.

The pandemic, however, dictated much of the King County Council’s decisions and priorities in 2020, long before it approved the $12.48 billion budget for the 2021-22 biennium in November

“The biggest success for me was that we were able to pass eight budgets in the last eight months,” Kohl-Welles said.

In addition to the 2021-23 biennial budget, the County Council approved two supplemental budgets for 2019-20, which made adjustments to the existing budget, and five COVID-19 budgets appropriating federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief Emergency Stimulus Act funds, and at one point, the County Council was working on three different budgets at once.

“This was never done before,” Kohl-Welles said. “This was unheard of.”

Along with the many meetings came a great deal of planning and collaboration between the Budget Committee and King County Executive Dow Constantine as revenue outlooks continuously changed and federal stimulus monies were released to the county, Kohl-Welles said.

“We had a continually evolving situation because of COVID-19, and accompanying that was a lot of unknowns,” Kohl-Welles said.

Things grew more complicated in the fall when Constantine had to build a budget that didn’t include federal stimulus funding the county had been using to create or support programs keeping residents safe or to offset losses in revenue caused by the economic downturn because of COVID.

“Our revenue plummeted once COVID hit,” Kohl-Welles said, adding the county has experienced an overall 15 percent decline in sales tax revenue, which isn’t expected to built up again to 2019 levels until 2023.

As well, while the county had received $262 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds, all that money must be spent by Dec. 30 and can’t be used to backfill the county’s general fund. Added to that, the county’s funding needs to support health, safety and economic development measures far exceed the Dec. 30 deadline and the amount provided by the federal government.

Kohl-Welles said, with the budget passed, things are winding down for the County Council, with the last regular meeting on Dec. 15 and no more budgets planned for the rest of the year. Next year, however, will mean the council will pass a new supplemental budget in February or March to make necessary corrections because of the ever-evolving funding situation. She also hopes the federal government will approve additional COVID or CARES Act funding, which would prevent county programs and services from taking serious hits.

No additional federal funds, however, could spell real trouble, Kohl-Welles said.

“I can’t stress this enough: It’s so hard to know what’s coming next,” Kohl-Welles said. “We have to look at the whole picture. Taking a holistic approach is something I’ve been trying to do through all this and to make sure help is being provided throughout the whole county.”