MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
COUNCIL APPROVES 2009-2010 BUDGET
On Monday, November 24, the City Council unanimously approved the Seattle budget for 2009-2010. This action was the outcome of seven weeks of hard work and discussion and votes on more than 100 proposed budget changes and policy issues, punctuated by two very well attended public hearings and continued economic bad news. Despite these difficult circumstances, the Council adopted a budget that once again gives priority to direct services to the people of Seattle – food and shelter for those in need, public safety, transportation, libraries, and parks. I am very pleased that the Council supported my two major budget initiatives – adding almost a million dollars for emergency food assistance, and adding funding for legal services for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence.
Remarkably, the City of Seattle is in relatively good condition, especially compared to the State and County. Thanks to the City’s careful forecasting, we were not taken by surprise by falling revenue projections. Over the last several years, Seattle set aside more than $30 million in a rainy day fund. We were also very frugal in handling the budget in those years, using revenues during the good times to catch up on maintenance and on one-time projects, instead of starting new ongoing projects or adding large numbers of personnel.
General fund spending in the new budget will be $910 million in 2009 and $940 million in 2010. Reflecting the impact of the recession on City revenues, the 2009 budget will be $15 million smaller than the 2008 budget. This required great fiscal discipline, especially with rising costs for labor, health insurance, and many other city expense items.
Because of our sound fiscal choices over the years, Seattle will maintain essential services in 2009 without dipping into our rainy day fund. The 2010 budget is also balanced without the rainy day fund, based on the expectation of the beginning of a recovery in that year. However, if the economy does not recover, or if 2009 deteriorates to be even worse than expected, that fund will likely be tapped to make up for the shortfalls.
The Council worked closely with the Mayor to adjust our budget in the light of continued grim economic news and falling revenue projections. We reduced expenses by postponing new vehicle purchases and some building construction and renovation projects, and took modest cuts out of most Departments without reducing core services. We also reorganized and streamlined some Departments and programs, trimming overhead and tightening belts where that could be done without affecting vital programs or compromising public safety.
The Council’s work began with cutting $26 million from the two-year budget proposed by the Mayor in September. Some $19 million of this was required to reflect expected declines in revenues. The Council also saw the need for $7 million in expenditures to implement critical services, and had to find corresponding budget reductions in order to have the needed resources for this purpose. The Council added more than $4.5 million to human services, including some $1 million for food banks, home delivery of food, and other food programs, about $1 million to restore programs to reintegrate criminal offenders into the community and keep them out of further criminal activities (GOTS, Co-Stars, and CURB), almost $1 million for domestic violence work (including legal assistance for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence), $300,000 for programs for the homeless, $400,000 for senior centers, and $1 million for other human services priorities.
The Council also added funds for library collections, neighborhood planning support, neighborhood disaster response planning work, neighborhood traffic control programs, and continuing work on the Linden Avenue project, the major implementation project for the Bitter Lake Neighborhood Plan. We dedicated increased revenues from cable franchise fees to expand the City’s Neighborhood Technology Matching Fund, support more computers in libraries and longer hours at Parks Department computer centers, and develop a new Citizen Engagement Portal for communication between the people of Seattle and City government.
The Council approved rate increases proposed by the Mayor for water and solid waste, but cut some $26 million from the proposed increases, saving the average household about $25 per year over the next two years. Solid Waste rates have not been significantly increased for 14 years, and these rate increases are driven by new ten-year collection contracts approved last year. Water rates have increased steadily, mainly due to the need to catch up on maintenance of the water infrastructure that was neglected for almost 30 years through the late 1990’s.
The Council made substantive changes to the Mayor's Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. The Council committed to both short-term and long-term solutions by adding $267,000 for youth mentoring programs and enhanced case management, while maintaining current services for the next few months as the new programs are designed and put into place. The provisions for maintaining current services are designed to ensure that no child will slip through the cracks during any transition, with current case management services continued at least until the new approach is defined and approved by the Council. The Council intends that current services be provided, at a minimum, for the first three months of 2009.
The budget does eliminate a number of positions including five full time employees in the Office of Economic Development, sixteen proposed new positions in Seattle City Light, ten new positions requested in Seattle Public Utility’s (SPU) rate proposal, and two positions from the Department of Planning and Development. The budget adds 21 new patrol positions in the Seattle Police Department, continuing on schedule the five-year plan to expand police patrol services.
Last June, the Council passed Resolution 31063, outlining 2009-2010 budget priorities and naming six core city services for funding: human services and housing, pedestrian safety, public safety, environmental stewardship, transportation, and neighborhood planning. The Council received the Mayor’s proposed budget on September 30 and has spent the last seven weeks listening to community input, analyzing the needs of the City, and making the necessary choices required to maintain the key initiatives in the priority areas identified in Resolution 31063.
The 2009-10 budgets keep the promise we made to voters to focus on these top six priorities. We are maintaining essential services, while continuing to make investments for the future.
For more information on the budget, visit the Council’s website.
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PUBLIC COMMENT MEETING ON TREE PROTECTION ORDINANCE
On Monday, November 24, I introduced Council Bill 116404, an ordinance to implement interim tree protection regulations. The Council will hold a public comment meeting on this ordinance on Monday, December 15, at 5:30 PM, in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Related documents and the ordinance can be reviewed on the Council’s website:
This ordinance is intended to provide protection to trees during an interim period of six months to a year while the Council and Mayor develop a long-range program that combines regulations with incentives to preserve trees on private land. It sets specific thresholds for tree removal on residential and commercial lots, reinforces protections against removal of exceptional trees, adds groves of trees to the definition of exceptional trees, and establishes specific standards for issuing notices of violation and review and appeal processes.
The draft Council ordinance prohibits removal of exceptional trees without documentation of a hazard or other specifically defined reason. It also limits the removal of all trees more than six inches in diameter to three trees per year, unless there is an approved development permit. Such permits would be issued after consideration of alternatives that would protect the trees. It also closes a loophole in the current code that allows the removal of trees by obtaining a building permit and then not constructing the permitted structure, by requiring property owners who remove trees under a building permit to proceed with the project within one year.
Councilmembers recognize that this legislation imposes significant new restrictions on tree removal by property owners, and is likely to be controversial. Mature trees provide many critical ecosystem services, such as absorbing carbon dioxide and air pollutants, providing wildlife habitat, stabilizing soil, enhancing property value, and reducing storm water runoff. Our goal is to protect mature trees and minimize the loss of trees during the time it will take to develop a long term approach to tree protection and canopy restoration. In the interim, we want to ensure that property owners retain their ability to achieve their goals in managing their properties. The legislation is not intended to prevent development, but to set reasonable limits on how that development can affect Seattle’s declining numbers of mature trees, implementing our Comprehensive Plan goals of no net loss of tree canopy. We are actively seeking counsel from the public on whether this proposal meets these goals and appropriately balances the interests of property owners and trees. We welcome thoughts or ideas for amendments that would better achieve these ends.
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"The trouble with being poor, it takes all your time."
-- Willem de Kooning
"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together."
-- Eugene Ionesco
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
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