MAKING IT WORK
November 15, 2004, Volume VI, Issue 10
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide
information, inspire involvement, and make things work
in this great city.
2005-2006 BUDGET APPROVED
QUOTE AND DEEP THOUGHT
2005-2006 BUDGET APPROVED
On Friday, November 12, the City Council, sitting as the Budget Committee, unanimously approved the 2005 final and 2006 endorsed budgets. The Council will formally ratify this at its regular meeting on Monday, November 22.
The approved 2005 budget adds some $6 million to the Mayor's proposed budget, including $2 million in transportation funding, $1 million for libraries, $1 million for human services programs, and $2 million for neighborhoods, public safety, and parks and recreation. Most of the changes are restorations of programs that the Mayor had cut. The Council funded these changes by increasing the estimated revenues from parking, adding auditing capability to increase revenues from the Business and Occupations tax, capturing administrative efficiencies, and increasing the tax on water, drainage, solid waste, and sewer rates by 1.5 percentage points, which equates to an estimated $1.20 per month increase for the average household.
The endorsed 2006 budget continues most of the increases or restorations made in 2005; no additional tax revenues will be required in 2006.
While the last three year's budgets have involved a series of painful cuts, projections for the next two years are that the City has turned the corner and established a relatively stable budget, with the notable exception of funding for transportation. The Mayor's proposed budget continued operations of all other city departments with modest cuts. The Department of Transportation was cut by another $3 million, from a budget level that had already suffered catastrophic decreases in the last three years.
The Council recognized that the cuts of the last three years had created a leaner city government that is stretched thin to carry out its responsibilities. We saw many of the further cuts as so drastic that they would result in significant losses of service levels. In the past, the City could have taken advantage of its ability to increase property taxes by up to 6% per year to secure more revenues, but Initiative 747 has limited property tax increases to 1% per year, not enough to keep up with inflation. The City is also precluded from increasing many of its other sources of funds without a public vote. We do have the ability to increase taxes on the city's own utilities, and decided that a modest increase in these taxes would be an appropriate way to avoid the most draconian budget cuts.
The Council made the following specific changes to the budget:
Transportation: The Council added $2.1 million in 2005 and $1.8 million in 2006. More than half of this funding will go to arterial paving and bridge maintenance. The Council also restored one of two arborist positions cut in 2005 and restored both positions in 2006. The Mayor had eliminated neighborhood traffic safety services, which includes the neighborhood speed watch program, responses to community requests for safety improvements, and sidewalk repairs. For both the 2005 and 2006 budgets, the Council restored funding for these project areas as well as all three positions that work with communities on these issues. In the 2006 budget, the Council also restored funds for neighborhood pedestrian improvements and traffic signal maintenance. Restoring these funds will ensure that the most critical maintenance services are carried out, and that neighborhoods will have access to safety improvements and neighborhood traffic calming. They do not address the continuing urgent need for new revenues for Seattle's local transportation operations and maintenance, which are still short of several million dollars annually for basic transportation services, and at least $25 million annually for road and bridge maintenance.
Library: The Council added $500,000 to each year to restore the bookmobile. This will fund services at about 75% of previous levels, and the library believes that it can manage the program within this budget to meet the needs of its dependent patrons. The Council also added $500,000 for collections in 2005, to help restore the shelves, which have been swept bare by the increased patronage at the newly opened branch and central libraries.
Human Services: The Council fully restored the $300,000 in cuts to human services agencies, including the Minority Executive Directors Coalition and the Non-Profit Assistance Center. The Council also fully restored $158,000 to the SOAR pre-school program, $152,000 for late night recreation programs, $118,000 for the Master Home Environmentalist and Asthma programs, $55,000 for teen parent programs, $39,000 for the Port Jobs employment training program, and $45,000 for the City's supported employment program staff. In addition, the Council added $125,000 for human services support for Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered youth organizations and $250,000 in 2006 to assist the Casa Latina program for Latino day laborers to move from Belltown to a new location where services can be administered more efficiently and effectively.
Neighborhoods: The Council kept full funding for the Neighborhood Matching Fund, and also restored funding for the Seattle Neighborhood Group, legal clinics, and magistrates and work-study staff at Neighborhood Service Centers. The Council also created a new fee to be charged to Major Institutions for work on their plans, and authorized $103,000 for a position to carry out this work.
Parks: The Council turned down the Mayor's proposals to install parking meters in parks and charge admission to the Volunteer Park Conservatory. Instead, the Council added general fund to the Parks budget to replace the revenues assumed for these programs. Unfortunately the Council did not restore any program cuts in the Parks Department. I was particularly disappointed that the Council declined to restore two environmental education positions that were among my high priorities. The Council also approved funds to plan the renovation of Piers 62/63 and City Hall and Freeway Parks, but held back funds for implementation until the Council has reviewed the plans.
Police and Courts: The Council restored a staff position that had been cut from the Office for Professional Accountability, responsible for monitoring police relations with the community. The Council also restored the Court ombudsman and community organization contracts for programs to help people who have lost their driver's licenses. These programs aid people in setting up payment plans to cover outstanding traffic and parking fines, and to take other steps needed in order to regain their licenses. The Council also initiated funding for a new Community Court program that will divert minor offenders from the regular Court system.
Arts: Council approved the Mayor's proposal to restore the set-aside from admissions tax for arts programs to 15% of admission tax revenues in 2005 and 20% in 2006. This set-aside had been approved in 2000 to provide a secure source for community arts programs, but had been suspended for the last three years because of the City's budget problems. The Council also added funds for both 2005 and 2006 to cover half of the cost of debt service on the remaining $11.5 million completion cost for McCaw Hall. This debt is the result of shortfalls in anticipated funds from the state and county. The arts organizations had agreed to be responsible for covering it, and the Mayor proposed to charge them the full amount in 2005-2006. However, the Council felt that it was more appropriate to share the costs of this shortfall while the City and arts organizations work together to secure the missing funds.
Other Actions: The Council reduced the business license fee from $80 to $45 for micro-businesses with less than $20,000 in revenues.
The Council agreed to proceed with a proposed hygiene/day center for homeless men, but decided to look for alternative sites to the one proposed by the Mayor. The consultant report on the proposed facility raised several concerns about the proposed site, adjacent to the new Fire Command Center at Yesler and 5th. The Council wants to ensure that the community has had adequate opportunity to be involved in site selection and wants to give other possible locations full consideration.
The Council approved the sale of a number of parcels of surplus property, but placed conditions on the proposed sale for housing development of the west portion of the Soundways property in West Seattle. The conditions will require that any sale include provisions to protect environmentally sensitive areas and that the purchaser build a bicycle-pedestrian trail through the property (as long planned by the community). The resolution also gives the community until September of 2005 to develop funding for a possible purchase of this property for parks purposes instead of the sale for housing development.
Finally, the Council carefully reviewed the proposed funding for zoning and planning studies by the Department of Planning and Development, and adopted budget provisos requiring that DPD complete priority projects that have been waiting for funding, such as code provisions to encourage housing in Northgate and the rewrite of the City's commercial code, before beginning new projects. The Council also accepted a proposal to fund a study of South Downtown zoning using some private funding, but adopted a proviso that requires DPD to insulate the study from any potential conflicts of interest from entities or individuals who provide funding for it.
The Council worked cooperatively, under the strong leadership of Budget Chair Richard McIver, to craft this package. All Councilmembers were fully engaged, and each contributed to the final product. I believe it is a well-crafted budget that responds to community concerns in a responsible and responsive manner, and I applaud my colleagues for their hard work and commitment to making this possible.
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"Hope is one of our duties. A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study our life and our condition, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope. And if we look, these underpinnings can still be found."
"It's much easier to tell the truth, because then you don't have to remember what you said last time."
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback through the City Council website at http://cityofseattle.net/council/
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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