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City View Newsletter

Volume 2, Issue 20  • November 16, 2009
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Budget Primer and All That Matters

The Council has completed the heavy lifting on next year's city budget, including millions of dollars in cuts, additions, and restorations from the Mayor’s proposal. Our final vote is Monday, November 23 at 2 p.m.

Where the City’s Money Comes From.

Here are the four main funding sources for city government:

  1. Our share of the property tax collected by King County,
  2. Our share of the retail sales tax collected by Washington state,
  3. Our Business & Occupation Tax and
  4. Our share of the Real Estate Excise Tax collected by King County, plus fees, fines, and interest earnings.

How the City Spends Your Money.

The Council will approve $907 million in general fund expenditures. As you can see, public safety takes by far the largest chunk of our tax dollars.

Here are some of the most significant decisions and my personal assessment of how we did.

Back in August, the Council sent the Mayor a letter reiterating our top priorities:

  • public safety,
  • human services and
  • housing.

The Mayor’s proposed budget and our Council decisions strongly reflect these priorities. All direct human services were protected at current spending levels; we even added additional funding for shelters and day centers for women after seeing an uptick in need. We continued to fully fund the strategic hiring plan for new police officers. Tending to Basics: A+

Over the past few weeks, as the economic blahs continued, I became increasingly anxious about depleting our “rainy day” fund to the $5 million proposed by the Mayor. My colleagues agreed and we reduced some expenditures and reallocated others to move the fund back up to $10+ million. We funded a special study of how the city manages personnel and human relations to determine if there could be any additional cost-saving consolidations.

To maintain the financial integrity of City Light we made the tough decision to raise rates in January by 13.8%, an increase of just over $6 per month for the typical household. We need this increase to offset revenue losses caused by the huge decline in energy prices across the country that harmed City Light’s ability to make as much selling surplus power on the open market. If we didn’t replace this lost revenue with the rate increase, City Light would very likely see its bond rating fall - something that would cost ratepayers millions of dollars over the next 20 years. Even with the rate increase, electricity rates from City Light will still be among the lowest in the nation and substantially lower than other cities in the Puget Sound region. Fiscal Prudence: A

As I mentioned, public safety is the biggest single component of City expenses so it’s important that we continue to support innovation in this area, especially to find alternatives to the typical arrest-prosecute-jail-release pattern we see with many misdemeanor and low-level felony offenders. This pattern

  • costs a lot of money,
  • doesn’t solve the crime problem, and
  • fails to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

The Council restored funding for three anti-crime programs— Get off the Streets (GOTS), Communities Uniting Rainier Beach (CURB), and Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services (Co-STARS).

We allocated more money for the Drug Market Initiative, (more at my personal blog) a unique police-prosecutor effort to confront low-level, non-violent drug offenders with alternatives.

The Council also agreed to partially fund a new program to provide safe housing and treatment for children involved in street and Internet prostitution. (Read my personal blog posts about this special program.) Crime Fighting Innovation: A

Some of the best “lobbyists” in town are the patrons of the Seattle Public Library. They deluged our offices with phone calls and emails when it appeared that many branch libraries would have their hours cut. The Council responded by restoring many, but not all, of the reduced hours, an action that keeps faith with voters who overwhelmingly approved the Libraries for All Levy. (Watch a brief video of my comments about the libraries during one of our Council meetings.) Libraries for All: B+

Despite these accomplishments, I remain concerned that we are not adequately measuring the effectiveness of many City-funded programs. Other local governments around the country have adopted specific performance standards and report frequently to citizens on what is being achieved with their tax dollars. Seattle is still spotty on such outcome measurements. We can do a lot more and I’ve suggested that we re-purpose the City Auditor’s office to include responsibility for program performance. With a new Mayor in office soon, I think we have a great opportunity to offer new ideas and new approaches to determining what works. Value of Investment Outcome Measurement: C-

Thank you all for your input throughout this process. Please continue to stay engaged!

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