Budgeting in Critical Times
Today marks the end of another demanding season of budget deliberations. On September 26, the Mayor submitted a proposed 2012 city budget of $4.2 billion, of which $910 million is in the "general fund"—the operating fund that by and large excludes city utility and capital budgets. The City Council this morning finished preliminary voting on our modifications to the Mayor’s budget. (We will vote our formal approval at 2 p.m. the Monday before Thanksgiving.)
Over the last two months, we heard from hundreds of you in person, over the phone and in writing. It is gratifying to see how passionately Seattleites care about our city.
A budget is an articulation of priorities and a statement of values. I focused my attention this budget cycle on three areas: good governance, public safety and human services.
Good Governance. One of my top priorities was to increase the capacity of our independent City Auditor to conduct performance audits of City departments and programs. Our Auditor’s office is small compared to similarly-sized cities, but the Council added another auditor position to focus on the two city utilities, Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities. The new auditor will work with the utilities to find efficiencies and cost savings that lead to better service for a better price for ratepayers.
My colleagues and I also approved a comprehensive review of the City’s various information technology systems and protocols to identify efficiency, effectiveness and security improvements. This review will have active employee participation; after all, they’re the ones who will have the best ideas for improvements.
Another good governance need we identified is how City government responds to the needs of our immigrant and refugees neighbors. Approximately 17% of our population—about 100,000 residents—are immigrants. These individuals and families contribute to the vibrancy of Seattle in countless ways; for example, immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start a new business as their native-born counterparts. Unfortunately, many immigrant communities have trouble accessing City services, including critical public safety services, in the face of language barriers and other unique challenges related to their economic, education and health status.
To address these needs, the Council created a new, two-person office to better coordinate and strategically focus City services. Working with the City’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission, these staffers will streamline resources and deliver services in a more effective, culturally relevant manner.
Public Safety. The Mayor’s budget holds 26 police officer positions vacant, a recommendation the Mayor made based on improving 911 response times and continued decline in the number of reported major crimes. Unfortunately, these positive outcomes are not uniform across all neighborhoods and across all times of day. Many neighborhood business districts continue to struggle with ongoing, low-level street crime and disorder. The Council has asked the police department to reevaluate its Neighborhood Policing Plan (which was based on hiring more officers) to reflect the current level of officers on the force. We need a plan that adapts to current budgetary realities.
Additionally, the Council increased funding to support four precinct liaison attorneys who will proactively address community and neighborhood problems. These individuals will work directly with officers and neighbors to identify and remedy chronic crime hot spots.
Human Services. Each year since I joined the Council in 2008, we have held the line and even increased human services funding, a reflection of the priority we have placed on taking care of those in need. This year, the Council added $435,000 to the budget for housing vouchers, transitional housing facilities and the rapid re-housing program to address the spike in homeless families.
I also proposed expanding funding for the Nurse Family Partnership, a program that helps break the cycle of poverty by working with first time low-income mothers to improve their pregnancy outcomes, their child’s health and development and the economic self-sufficiency of their family. Registered nurse home visitors work intensively with clients from pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life. The program is backed by 30 years of research that proves it works; return on investment is $2.88 for every $1 spent. The Council added 4 more nurses to serve 100 more families in Seattle.
Big Picture. I encourage you to carefully watch and participate in the budget discussions happening now at the state and federal levels. This is a critical time for our society. As income and wealth gaps dramatically expand, all of us must work harder to ensure equal opportunity and reduce unemployment and poverty.
As I transition into my second term in office, I want to thank you again for entrusting me with this challenging yet gratifying work.
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