The Mayor delivered a draft budget in late September already built on projections of lower revenues. Then, in late November, we received the details on the economic plunge after the Mayor closed the book on his version and a small team of us went to work with the Mayor's staff to cut out an additional $9 million from the 2009 budget and an additional $10 million from 2010's draft budget.
I worked hard with my colleagues to make smart cuts while protecting funds for basic needs like food, shelter, long-term housing, police officers, park maintenance, senior centers, and youth violence prevention. Despite the downturn in revenues, I think we were able to craft a budget that followed through on the budget priorities we established earlier this year – public safety, human services, transportation and pedestrian safety, environmental protection and neighborhood planning.
After hard review and debate, we also raised several fees and rates where we had to do so - to better manage parking, to fund necessary upgrades in garbage and recycling collection, to ensure safe drinking water, and, sometimes, simply to keep pace with the cost of doing business. On the bright side, we did not dip into City reserve or "rainy day funds." With economic forecasts what they are, we may need the reserves to be whole next year.
A few of my budget highlights:
City Council and the Mayor made a commitment to hire an additional 105 police officers between 2007 and 2012. Despite the economic crunch, we protected that commitment in the 2009-2010 budgets (so far). Per the new union contract officers and the city approved earlier this year, we also pay officers more. That commitment is safe, as well.
Like last year, the Mayor's version of the budget zeroed out a few Council priorities (he does the first draft, so that's his prerogative), including funds for street-level outreach to people on the streets in the Central Area, Downtown and Rainier Beach. Get of the Streets (Central), Co-STARS (Downtown) and Communities United in Rainier Beach (CURB) connect people with drug and alcohol treatment, housing, and the other support services needed to get their lives on track. It's tough work. There are many failures, but there are many success stories, too.
This past weekend we saw a rash of probably gang-related gun deaths and injuries. I want to say the budget we passed will stop youth gun violence immediately, but that's unlikely given how easy it seems to be for a kid to get a gun these days. The budget we passed includes immediate funding for police officers to be present in select middle and high schools; money for case management of at-risk youth; funds for family support because parents and guardians of troubled kids need help; and money for intensive, "best practice" therapies shown to move high-risk kids away from choosing violence. We parked some of the youth violence money originally proposed by the Mayor so that we can determine how to use it for maximum impact. That review of what works will happen in the first quarter of the year in Councilmember Burgess' Public Safety, Human Services & Education Committee.
This is a time – spiking foreclosures, layoffs, crumbling 401ks -- when meeting basic human needs becomes more important than ever. Frankly, in his first draft of the budget Mayor Nickels did a good job of putting money into food and shelter programs. My fellow Councilmembers and I built on these investments by adding funds for shelter, foodbanks, food delivery for the homebound, senior centers, and more. We heard from advocates all over the city and I wish we could have done more for shelters, dental clinics, and job training. Some of us land in tough spots. Seattle sets a high mark for investing in people. We need more cities in the area to step up and extend the safety net.
Transportation and pedestrian safety
It's not quite yet time for ribbon-cutting on Linden Avenue North, but we're getting closer. Council dedicated dollars to finish the design for sidewalks along Linden in the middle of the Bitterlake Urban Village in north, north, north Seattle. We put $150,000 back into the Neighborhood Traffic Control program (traffic circles, speed humps and chicanes) after the Mayor zeroed the program.
We voted to develop what we're calling a "climate note" for legislation. Like a fiscal note that explains the financial impacts of legislation, the climate note will explain the environmental impact of projects or programs considered by Council. We also voted to ask City Light to assess what it could mean to the electricity grid if a lot of Seattleites convert to electric automobiles over the next decades.
I'm happy to say we protected staff and support necessary for the citywide planning area check-in and updates to neighborhood plans. Link Light Rail will open in July of next year, and development near those stations in Southeast Seattle has already started to change the map. The credit markets may be sad, mad places right now, but new building will come to station areas in the next few years and our neighborhoods will benefit by well-made plans channeling the growth and change.
In figuring out how to trim $19 million everything was on the table. You may have read about an idea to break up the Office of Economic Development. We didn't, but we did streamline operations. You may have heard about the Mayor's proposal to exempt small live music venues from an admissions tax. We did it, but pushed back the effective date to July 1, 2009 (saving $150,000). Maybe you heard about the pitch to restructure the Office of Sustainability and the Environment (we didn't). You may have heard about raising soccer field fees. We did, but not as much as the Mayor originally proposed.
Advocacy from you – via email, over the phone, and in person in the office or at one of the two crowded public hearings – made an enormous difference as we balanced the many, many ideas for cuts and additions.
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