MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
2008 CITY BUDGET
On Monday, November 19, the City Council adopted the 2008 budget for the City of Seattle. 2008 will be the second year of the two-year budget cycle, so the major elements of this budget were already ‘endorsed’ during the 2006 budget process. The Council’s actions this fall focused on revising and adding elements to the previously endorsed budget. No items in the endorsed budget were deleted.
The 2007-2008 budgets prepared in 2006 were fairly cautious in projecting revenues, as there was some concern that an economic downturn might materialize in either 2007 or 2008. Since the Seattle economy continued to flourish in 2007, there are a significant amount of additional revenues that the City will realize this year. In addition, current projections are more optimistic for 2008, and with a greater degree of certainty as the year draws closer. As a result, the City has a significant amount of additional funds to invest in 2008.
However, because much of this revenue derives from the Real Estate Excise Tax, legally required to be spent on capital projects, and continued economic health cannot be assumed for future years, both the Mayor’s proposed and the Council’s adopted budget invested most of the additional funds in one-time expenditures, mainly but not exclusively on capital projects. The City added very few additional positions or other long-term commitments that might not be able to be sustained in future years.
The endorsed budget included adding additional police officers and taking major steps towards incorporating the operational components of the ProParks Levy in the regular Parks budget. The Mayor’s proposed budget included funding the remainder of the parks levy operations budget out of the general fund. This addresses a major concern that Parks operations might not be sustained when this levy expires next year. The Mayor also proposed using some of the additional revenues to create an opportunity fund for parks improvements. Other additions to the 2008 budget agreed to by the Council included a park ranger program, additional public safety investments in downtown, additional funds for neighborhood street projects, and a number of other art and parks programs and buildings. The Mayor also included funding for a new round of neighborhood plans, which the Council has been recommending, and the Council agreed to the proposal with provisions for greater public involvement and Council oversight.
The Mayor also proposed spending $9.3 million on a proposed 311 system to consolidate city phone access for non-emergency calls. The Council found that the proposal had not been well-thought out, and that costs and benefits were not clear. The Council approved $500,000 to create a more detailed plan, in the expectation that there would be a more deliberative decision on this in the 2008 budget process. The Council also deleted a proposal to put emergency medics on motorcycles, expressing concern that the benefits were not very large and that there were safety risks that could outweigh them.
The Council redirected these funds as well as other additional revenues to a variety of important priorities. Among the major additions were:
- $2 million for the library collections budget and $150,000 for other arts and cultural programs;
- $5.5 million for human services programs, including major investments in low income housing and dental clinics, emergency response planning for human services agencies, community center hours, food delivery and food banks, and a number of smaller programs, including the Soar early childhood initiative, AIDS prevention, senior centers, a gang violence prevention program, domestic violence programs, and continuation of the Cascade People’s Center;
- $813,000 for economic development programs, including a new Visitor Center, a job training program in the Duwamish industrial area, and implementation of the Southeast Action Agenda;
- $3.5 million for pedestrian safety initiatives, including $1.5 million for additional sidewalks and other investments in 31st Avenue South traffic calming, stairway improvements, innovative pedestrian infrastructure, and an education campaign for drivers and pedestrians;
- $3 million to add $1.5 million each for the Phinney Neighborhood Center and University Heights Community Center to support community acquisition of the school buildings that have been declared surplus and are currently used by those organizations, which added to the $1 million each in the Mayor’s budget restores restoring the $5 million that the Council adopted last year in the endorsed budget (the Mayor also proposed and the Council accepted $1 million apiece for the Fauntleroy and Crown Hill Centers to begin the process the community process of acquiring those buildings);
- $1.5 million for other open space and community facility projects, including $520,000 for acquisition and development of P-Patches and $800,000 for the Seattle Center Skatepark;
- $830,000 for enhancing emergency medical services;
- $1.5 million additional for the Rainy Day Fund for use in times when the economy is not as robust.
The Council approved one additional tax, a square footage tax on businesses. However, there will not be additional taxes paid under this new tax structure, as the tax is designed to replace the revenues from business lost as a result of actions by the state legislature. The legislature changed the way that the existing ‘gross receipts’ tax can be calculated by cities, a change that will benefit businesses (usually larger corporations) that operate in a number of locations, and that will cost the City of Seattle approximately $20 million in tax revenues.
In order to recover what we estimate would be about $16 million of that loss from the businesses that benefited under the legislative change without harming the vast majority of businesses that did not benefit from the legislature’s action, the new tax allows businesses to compute their tax under the older tax structure and pay that amount if it is less than they would have to pay under the new design. It’s an unfortunately complex tax protocol, but is the fairest way to address the loss of this revenue.
The budget also cut property taxes levied on existing property by $4 million (1.3%), the first property tax reduction in many years for Seattle residents and businesses. And the Council agreed with the Mayor to raise the tax exemption for small business from $50,000 to $80,000, reducing tax revenues by $700,000.
The Seattle 2008 budget is a responsible and prudent investment that funds public safety, libraries, parks, human services, and important infrastructure that supports our economy, our environment, and the health of our people. The Council added important projects that will improve the City and help those in need.
I enthusiastically support virtually all of the items in the proposed budget and those that the Council added. I am particularly pleased to have played a key role in securing the funds for the conversion of four surplused schools to permanent community use, the funds for acquisition and development of P-Patches, the $500,000 for emergency planning for human service agencies, and additional funding for domestic violence programs. Each Councilmember proposed expenditures in the areas of their expertise, and these were the ones that I initiated and advocated for.
Our communities will be safer, our environment will be healthier, our libraries and parks more accessible and usable, our economy more vibrant, and our people better housed and fed as a result of Seattle’s budget actions. We are using our prosperity to invest in people and our future.
Back to Contents
“When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods; what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?”
-- Henry David Thoreau
"It takes a carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can knock it down."
-- Sam Rayburn, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives
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,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
Back to Contents
Back to MAKING IT WORK Newsletters