Mayor Mike McGinn delivered his proposal for a 2012 City budget last Monday thus kicking off the two month budget review season (which just happens to coincide with baseball playoff season, an important fact for people in many other cities). Over the past few years budget review has made Seattle's otherwise delicious autumn days metaphorically darker. In the past two budgets we've hacked 447 employee positions from the City budget as we've dealt with the drop in revenue associated with the recession. Library employees take one-week furloughs, community centers operate with limited schedules, we have fewer neighborhood district coordinators, fewer construction permit reviewers, shuttered some Neighborhood Service Centers, froze hiring for the Neighborhood Policing Plan, and have fewer precinct liaison attorneys.
The budget for 2012 promises more of the same. For context, unemployment nationally and regionally remains unexpectedly high; the housing market nationally is choking on a gut-wrenching number of foreclosures still "to clear," as described in the media; and the Federal government is fighting us into a deeper hole with brinksmanship and the likelihood of deep cuts to domestic spending. Locally, tax revenues are no longer in free fall, but that's the best thing we can say at the moment. This may be the "new normal," or Greece, worse, will default on its debt and send reverb through the world financial system – and further gloom into the spending attitudes of you and me.
You may have seen some of the notable items in the Mayor's proposed 2012 budget. The Mayor's draft budget:
- Maintains 2011 funding levels for Human Services contracts. This is great given the demand for food and shelter help.
- Remixes the available hours at Community Centers across the city, unfortunately reducing drop-in hours at a number of centers.
- Lays off approximately 75 people and leaves 26 police officer positions vacant.
- Spends a portion of $19.2 million in land sale proceeds on road maintenance, street cleaning, neighborhood traffic control, the Mercer West project, and planning for high-capacity transit.
- Provides no further cuts to library hours or the library collections budget. The one-week August city-wide library closure will happen again this year.
- Merges the Office of Economic Development with the Office of Housing.
- Restores a small amount of staffing to support neighborhood planning.
- Proposes to spend $1.5 million studying how to extend light rail or street cars to the Northwest part of the City.
A budget is the opportunity to demonstrate one's priorities and values through a spending plan. Through the Council's review of the Mayor's proposed budget I hope we can produce a budget for 2012 that accomplishes important objectives:
- Maintain the safety net. This Mayor and this Council have both prioritized direct services to vulnerable people in our community who have limited or no resources of their own. Food banks, shelter, counseling, job training and other social services are survival services in these times.
- Preserve public safety. While Seattle's rate of violent crime is down, property and quality of life crimes are up and we hear regularly about street-level drug dealing and assaults in certain neighborhoods. We need to see change in these areas. We'll debate how police staff, beat patrols, "hot spot" policing, street outreach, treatment and other approaches get into (or don't get into) the City budget.
- Keep the infrastructure up. Whether we're talking about sidewalks, concrete and asphalt travel lanes, overhead or underground wires, building roofs, pipes or conduit, I'll be looking to see how each department (Transportation, in particular) deals with long-term infrastructure investments.
- Reevaluate what we do and how we do it. We, including me, have to set aside long-held ideas about how to provide City services. Asking the right questions about outcomes and competency, we have to look at City programs and measure how effective they truly are. We can't afford everything we're doing today. Chances are we won't be able to afford everything we're doing this time next year, as well. The Mayor and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, chair of the Council's Parks Committee, have already announced a different approach to community center staffing that preserves our system, but at lower cost.
- Cut where we have to, invest where we must. We will cut, there's no doubt, but we should also maintain investments that draw in other sources of funding and that pay dividends for Seattle in the long-run. The Neighborhood Matching Fund is a great example of a fund that multiplies dollars and builds stronger communities.
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Budget Public Hearings
Tuesday, Oct 4
City Council Chambers
600 4th Ave, 2nd Floor
Wednesday, Oct 26
City Council Chambers
600 4th Ave, 2nd Floor