Add together the annual budgets of the city's Office for Arts & Culture, the Office of Economic Development, the Office of Housing, and the Department of Neighborhoods (not including the Neighborhood Matching Fund) and you still would not have chopped off enough city spending to fill the $72 million budget gap projected for 2010. (You'd be $4 million short.) You could lop off all city support to the public libraries, but you'd still be $22 million short.
Welcome to budget season.
As of last week all Council committees (except the action-rich Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee and the Energy & Technology Committee) cease work on regular legislation. City Council as a whole turns our attention to the spending plan for 2010. The goal normally is to determine how we can best balance priorities and use tax dollars most effectively. Personally, I'll be looking to keep Seattleites safe and helping the most vulnerable people stay above water. That means keeping our multi-year commitment to hiring new police officers, renovating fire stations, stocking food banks, providing effective alternatives to youth violence, and keeping shelter beds open.
There will also be tough cuts, and while I'll strive to minimize the impacts Seattleites feel, we will notice. When we have hundreds of good priorities to balance, not everything can get the funding it needs.
Mayor Greg Nickels delivered his proposed spending plan and it's a good base from which the Council can work. His proposal (his final budget plan and one that echoes his first budgets when he started eight years ago in the dot-com-bust recession) combines furloughs, layoffs, one-time project savings and cuts, and a $25 million infusion from the city's "rainy day fund" in order to balance revenue and spending for the end of 2009 and through 2010.
Furloughs – The cuts and layoffs could have been much more severe, but due to the commitment of many city unions, thousands of workers will take voluntary unpaid days off (furloughs) to save the city $11.6 million ($6.5 million of that in General Subfund costs). While the Legislative Department isn't a big department that can save big money through furloughs, I will personally advocate for Council and department staff to take furloughs. If, by taking furloughs, we can stretch safety net services further, then we should do it. Since elected officials aren't allowed to change their own salary it means I'll write a check back to the city. Workers throughout the city have made the sacrifice, and I think we should as well.
Layoffs – There's a lot of political rhetoric about how the city should slash all the upper-level managers in order to slim down and save money. That's a valid place to look for savings, but it doesn't make a lay-off any easier. No matter the position, you, us as the people the corporation serves, have incredibly smart, talented people working at all levels. If the Council accepts the Mayor's proposal, 310 positions could be cut (out of a total workforce of about 11,000). As of today, 116 of those slots are occupied by someone and the others are vacant. Many of the vacant slots are in the utilities where we have had trouble filling positions with skilled people.
One-time project savings and cuts – We'll scoop up any savings left over in department budgets from this year's work. The good news is several construction contracts for streets and parks have come in under budget. However, there will be projects in parks, on streets and sidewalks, around community centers and at Seattle Center that will be delayed, cut or scaled back.
Tapping the "rainy day" fund – It's definitely raining, but the transfer amount proposed by the Mayor ($25.4 million) leaves just $5 million in the account for 2011 when it will still be raining. The projected budget deficit for 2011 hovers presently at $35 million. To leave more than $5 million in the rainy day fund means we have to hack more from the budget – more people, projects and programs. Maybe the question is should we cut more now or cut more later?
I mentioned a few personal priorities above – adding police officers, continuing to upgrade fire stations, stemming youth violence through effective interventions, keeping food banks open, and shelter beds available. The Mayor's proposal does a good job of maintaining spending in these areas at the 2009 levels.
Finding cuts to work in other priorities won't be easy, but there are some priorities underfunded or left out of the Mayor's proposal. For instance, I don't think this is the time to stop investing what we can in the Neighborhood Matching Fund and in updating neighborhood plans. These may not seem as vital as police officers or feed to and shelter, but both leverage enormous amounts of money and time. Both are great investments in the health, safety and smart development of our communities throughout the city. Unfortunately, the Mayor's proposed budget reduces spending for NMF and updating neighborhood plans.
I also support continuing funding for neighborhood-based programs that lift people out of crime and poverty. Get Off the Streets, Co-Stars (Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services) and Communities Uniting Rainier Beach are changing lives in the Central Area, Downtown and in Rainier Beach. The Mayor's budget does not include funding for these programs, but I'll work to make sure the Council's final budget does.
In our first Budget Committee presentation last Wednesday, we were reminded that for the nation this has been the worst recession since the 1930s. I've heard on the radio that the recession is officially over, but it doesn't feel too different around here yet. The recovery will be slow and probably, if we do this right, we will never build up to the same frenzied peak fueled by the failed mortgage markets.
To end on a slightly brighter note, the Wall Street Journal just listed Seattle and Washington DC tied for first place when it comes to cities where young professionals want to live. Seattle has the great arts and music, great "creative" jobs, and an unbeatable surrounding landscape.
Now we just need to build a city budget that keeps Seattle a great place to live, work and play for everyone in every neighborhood.
Return to Index
ENGAGING IN THE BUDGET PROCESS
The city budget is hundreds of pages, but it's easily sortable by department at the following website. You'll likely hear more about the contents of the budget in the months ahead, but if there are certain priorities you'd like to see funded, there will be plenty of opportunity to weigh in. My colleague, Councilmember Godden, created a handy guide to help understand the budget process, available here. The City Council will also host three public hearings.
The public hearings will be:
10/7, 5:30 p.m.
Whitman Middle School
9201 15th Ave NW
10/14, 5:30 p.m.
Northwest African American Museum
2300 S Massachusetts St
10/26, 5:30 p.m.
City Council Chambers
600 4th Ave
Our goal is to have the 2010 budget adopted the Monday before Thanksgiving. It'll be a tough year, but I look forward to working together with you to push through it.
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL
Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee
Off Site Meeting
For more information, please call us at (206) 684-8802
Neighborhood District Council Meetings
Lake City Library Conference Rm
12501 28th Ave NE
S Seattle Community College
6000 16th Ave SW
10/8, 8:30 a.m.
1904 Third Ave
10/8, 6 p.m.
Douglass Truth Library
2300 E Yesler Way
Lake Union District
908 N 34th
Queen Anne/Magnolia District
10/12, 7 p.m.
QA/Magnolia Neighborhood Service Center
160 Roy St
10/14, 7 p.m.
5614 22nd Ave NW
10/21, 7 p.m.
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
4408 Delridge Way SW
10/26, 6:30 p.m.
W Precinct Conf. Rm.
810 Virginia St
10/28, 6:30 p.m.
Rainier Community Center
4600 38th Ave S
10/28, 6:30 p.m.
Beacon Hill Neighborhood Service Center
2821 Beacon Ave S
10/28, 7 p.m.
Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center
8515 Greenwood Ave N
You have received this newsletter because you have contacted our office with a comment and suggestion.