MAKING IT WORK
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Council Adopts 2011-2012 Budget
On Friday, November 12, the Council, meeting as the Budget Committee, completed its work on adopting some 147 amendments to the Mayor’s proposed budget and accompanying legislation. The Full Council formally adopted the budget on Monday, November 22.
The budget approved by the Council responds to the challenge of the recession and works for the people of Seattle. It is balanced and sustainable. It protects public safety, expands our human services commitment, and invests resources to support our neighborhoods, parks, libraries, and transportation system. There are still some cuts we would rather not make, but this Council has worked hard to minimize the impacts of difficult times on Seattle and invest in our common future.
Seattle is fortunate that our budget is not in a crisis. Unlike the County, where police officers are being laid off, or the State, which will have great difficulty sustaining basic education and human services, the City will maintain all of our current police officers, all of our human services programs, and most of our other core programs. We faced a budget challenge, and we successfully met that challenge.
There will be some reductions in services. Approximately 300 positions will be cut from the City’s workforce, and there will be some major changes in how the City manages and administers its work. There are no broad-based tax increases, although the Council did raise a number of fees, most significantly for the use of sports fields and other parks facilities, and for parking and other transportation services.
Knowing that the challenge continues into 2012, the Council set firm targets for reduction in management costs that total nearly $3 million in 2012. We also expressed our intent to work with labor, management, and public stakeholders to fully review and create new models for managing our work in neighborhoods and community centers.
While approving City Light rate increases of 4.2% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2012, the Council actually reduced City Light rates for 2011 by ending the current 4.5% surcharge and will move forward with an efficiency review of City Light’s operations.
The Council also included in the budget package a series of actions to continue our work on economic recovery, including steps to coordinate permitting, support job training and development, and keep infrastructure projects moving forward.
We were able to restore many of the Mayor’s proposed cuts to important programs by identifying efficiencies. We also used approximately $8.5 million which is being advanced to the City from the Museum of History and Industry. MOHAI will receive funds from the SR 520 project as compensation for its building in Montlake. The City will also receive funds for the land we own in Montlake, but at a later date, so this transaction simply allows us to use this money immediately.
The Council’s budget was informed by thousands of comments from the public and community organizations. As we move into implementing the budget in 2011, the Council will continue to commit ourselves to listening to and engaging with the community in shaping Seattle’s future.
The following are some of the most significant changes that the Council made in the Mayor’s proposed budget:
- Doubled the number of drop-in hours at the five Community Centers the Mayor proposed to cut, restoring each of them to 30 hours of drop-in availability for the community.
- Restored $300,000 to the City’s Neighborhood Matching Fund for community projects.
- Provided funding to restore three of the six neighborhood district coordinators that would have been terminated under the Mayor’s budget, retain a position in the Historic Preservation program, and keep the West Seattle payment center open.
- Added $220,000 per year for major maintenance on library buildings.
- Added nearly $200,000 in funding to establish a full-time winter shelter in City Hall and to address increasing costs experienced by existing shelter providers.
- Restored 2010 funding levels for human services-related policy advocacy and for non-profit capacity building.
- Restored almost $150,000 to continue subsidies that allow low-income offenders to participate in domestic violence batterer’s treatment programs.
- Restored funding for the American Lung Association’s program to help families with asthma and other indoor air quality problems modify their homes and improve health.
PUBLIC SAFETY BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS:
- Preserving sufficient funding to implement the Seattle Police Departments Neighborhood Policing Program.
- Restoring funding for Crime Victim Advocates proposed to be cut in the Mayor’s 2011-2012 proposed budget.
- Adding $20,000 per year for the Safe Havens program, which provides a safe visitation center for the children of families affected by domestic violence, and $16,000 to train homeless shelter providers in working with victims of domestic violence.
TRANSPORTATION BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS:
- Sets a maximum hourly meter rate of $4.00, a minimum rate of $0.75, and creates a formal program to evaluate and adjust parking meter rates up or down based on demand for parking.
- Rejects the Mayor’s proposal to increase the commercial parking tax from 12.5% to 17.5%, while still providing the Seattle Department of Transportation $3.6 million in additional funding per year.
- Directs this additional $3.6 million per year in funding to support critical transportation investments, with an emphasis on infrastructure that serves pedestrians and bicycles.
For more information on budget actions please visit Seattle City Council Budget Committee site. You can also find the 2011-2012 Budget Highlights document here.
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Funding Walking, Biking, and Transit -- And The Commercial Parking Tax
The budget approved by the City Council on Monday, November 22, funds transportation choices at their highest level ever in 2011. It continues our commitment to implementation of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and does so without adopting the Mayor’s proposal to increase the Commercial Parking Tax by another 40% over its current level, an increase that the Council felt could cause difficulties for our business districts and was not necessary to sustain the Transportation department budget.
As a full-time bicycle and bus commuter, I have a strong personal interest in increasing Seattle’s investments in transportation choices. And the policy reasons are compelling for supporting alternatives to the private automobile so that we can reduce energy use, pollution, and green house gas generation and promote safer and healthier communities.
As Chair of the Transportation Committee from 2002 to 2006, I organized Pedestrian Summer in 2003 (the City’s first campaign to promote pedestrian safety); sponsored the legislation that created the Strategic Transportation Plan and the Transit, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Master Plans; and worked to significantly increase funding for pedestrian and bicycle facilities. This culminated in the first committed funding stream for ped/bike programs and road and bridge maintenance through the Bridging the Gap (BTG) transportation levy and associated transportation taxes.
The entire Council supports transportation choices. Mayor McGinn has announced a program called ‘Walk, Bike, Ride’, intended to further increase the City’s commitments. This summer, the Council adopted the Mayor’s proposal to update the Transit Master Plan. We also created a Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC) to put together a long-range financial plan for our transportation system, as well as a Transportation Benefit District (TBD). The TBD is a legal mechanism that the State has given to cities that allowed the Council to implement a $20 Vehicle License Fee (VLF) to fund transportation improvements, and allows us to propose several other fees and taxes to the voters. The $20 VLF will raise about $7 million per year, and we will likely propose a ballot measure for a larger VLF in the future.
With all of this work and commitment, and the strong advocacy of a new coalition called Streets for All Seattle, it would seem that we have a great opportunity to move forward together with increased ped/bike investments. And the proposed 2011 budget continues the steady ramp up of these projects.
But there are questions about how to fund future investments. The Council is committed to a systematic and comprehensive approach guided by the work of the citizens committee (CTAC) and funded by a balanced package of sources. Unfortunately, the Mayor chose to generate an unnecessary conflict by including an increase in the Commercial Parking Tax (CPT) in his transportation budget and tying part of the increased CPT revenues to his Walk, Bike, Ride program.
The current 10% CPT is part of the Bridging the Gap transportation program, and has generated more revenues than were originally predicted. In fact, it has generated enough revenue that the Council was able to repeal the third BTG tax, the so-called “head tax”, a tax on the number of employees, and continue to fully fund the BTG projects from the CPT revenues.
Both of these taxes are flawed instruments. The “head tax” was the third different business and occupation tax that the City imposed, and businesses found it to be complex to administer. While very modest, it also gave the wrong message about encouraging new jobs by taxing them.
The CPT also has inherent flaws – it taxes paid parking, not parking spaces. This means that it does not get at the provision of free parking by companies to employees, which is the very type of commute that we would most like to see discouraged. It also does not affect free parking at shopping malls, which is also a type of auto use that we want to discourage. And a new problem emerged this year, with concerns raised by the UW and other institutions that the CPT decreases the parking revenues that they use to subsidize transit programs such as UPass.
The City has very few taxes that can be raised without a public vote, but the CPT is one of those. Because of the urgent need to keep moving on the Seawall, the Council voted last August to raise the CPT by an additional 2.5 percentage points, bringing the total to 12.5%. The increase will take effect in January 2011 and will fund Seawall work for the next two years. However, a large majority of the Council sent a clear message to the Mayor that we were not willing to raise it further, for the reasons cited above. The Mayor chose to ignore our message and proposed to raise the tax by another 5 percentage points in order to raise $10 million in 2011, about 3% of the $300 million transportation budget.
Transportation is one of the few departments whose budget would increase under the Mayor’s proposal. Human services were cut by 7.6%, libraries by 9.5%, and neighborhoods by 18.2%, and five community centers were reduced to limited hours.
The Council has identified cuts and resources that will add back about $3.6 million to the transportation department budget, largely into ped/bike programs. We believe that the Mayor’s proposed transportation budget can sustain a 2% reduction without seriously affecting bike/ped programs or other important services to the public.
This has been a difficult budget year for the City – and a difficult year for employees, residents, and businesses. The Council’s rejection of the Mayor’s 40% increase to the CPT does not change our commitment to funding bicycle and pedestrian improvements. On the contrary, we will continue to fund necessary transportation investments – including transportation choices at their highest level ever – in 2011. And next year we will work with the CTAC to develop a comprehensive, long-range transportation funding plan to guide sound investments for the public in future years.
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Reinventing Seattle’s Community Centers and Department of Neighborhoods
The Departments of Parks and Neighborhoods took the greatest hits from the Mayor in his proposed 2011 budget. The Parks Department lost dozens of employees, with five community centers cut back to limited use status, while the Department of Neighborhoods was cut by 18.2% -- almost three times as large as the total budget reductions.
The Council restored significant parts of these budgets. In Parks, the Mayor’s proposed budget cut drop in hours by up to 80% in the community centers proposed for ‘limited use’, with no plans for future restoration of services, and three community spaces converted to offices. The Council added funds to restore an additional 15 hours of drop in time at the Green Lake, Laurelhurst, and Queen Anne Community Centers, and also turned down two of the Mayor’s proposed conversions of community rooms to office space. The Council continues to look for replacement space to eliminate other proposed office conversion, and do not agree that office space should be the long-term plan for the Green Lake Community Center.
In the Department of Neighborhoods budget, the Council restored a number of cuts that the Mayor had made to neighborhood programs, including:
- $300,000 to the Neighborhood Matching Fund
- Three of the six District Coordinator positions that the Mayor cut
- A position in the Landmarks/Historic Preservation program
- The West Seattle neighborhood service center and utility payment office.
The City faces difficult decisions on the future of our community centers and neighborhood programs. There are significant challenges in the Seattle budget over at least the next three or four years that make it unlikely that we can fully restore these programs at the level that they have operated at in the past.
However, we do not accept the premise that we must resign ourselves to losing these important services. Instead, the Council proposes to embark on a full review of community center operations and Department of Neighborhoods services in 2011. Our goal is to engage Department leadership, employees and their unions, and the public in a reexamination of the staffing and operations planning for these two services. We think we can ‘reinvent’ community center and neighborhood service center operations to find ways to provide appropriate levels of service to all of our neighborhoods, in the context of budget limitations.
This may mean consolidation of facilities, new staffing plans, and/or realignmentof programs and hours, as well as developing new relationships with service providers such as the Associated Recreation Council to share staffing and program operations. It will not be an easy exercise, but it is a critically important one for our neighborhoods and families.
The Council is also committed to making decisions on these kinds of services in an open, transparent, and deliberative manner, with full public participation and involvement. We will ask the community to work with us, acknowledge the constraints we are working under, and join in the serious reexamination of how we can best meet community needs in a time of difficult budget decisions.
We hope and believe that this future work will result in revitalized community center and neighborhood service centers programs in the future.
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Parking Rates: Applying the Science
The Council has adopted a new strategic approach to setting parking rates that modifies the Mayor’s proposal and reshapes city on-street parking policy to focus on specific and measurable outcomes. The new approach is designed to ensure that visitors to neighborhood business districts, including downtown, will be able to find a parking spot near their destination. We do this by not setting the rates ourselves, as a legislative enactment, but directing the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to set on-street parking meter rates to maintain approximately one or two open spaces per block face throughout the day.
We have agreed to allow these rates to rise to up to $4 per hour (although we did not agree to the Mayor’s proposed $5 per hour maximum), to continue to allow SDOT to have the authority to set parking meter hours (as they do under current law), but not to add Sunday as a paid parking day.
The next step in actually setting rates will be for SDOT to complete a citywide parking occupancy study by the end of December. Based on this study, SDOT will divide current paid parking areas into smaller neighborhood segments based on retail business patterns and parking occupancy. SDOT will then set rates for each distinct neighborhood (including several different areas of downtown), based on specific data that will provide the best parking service for the businesses in that neighborhood. These studies will be conducted annually to ensure that rates are working appropriately in each community. There will be monthly samplings to catch any short-term variations.
In the future, these studies will lead to variable rates based on time-of-day use in neighborhoods where that is appropriate. Meter rates will rise and fall based on market demand, not on the amount of revenue that the City would raise. If parking is hard to find, rates will rise, while in areas where metered spaces are going unused, rates will fall.
Parking meters are supposed to be a way to serve transportation and community purposes – supporting retail businesses, managing traffic, improving the environment, and minimizing congestion. This new policy approach will move the City towards setting those rates to serve those purposes – not just to generate revenue.
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Budget Sidelight: Hangar 30 at Magnuson
A curious sidelight to this year’s budget deliberations was a sudden flurry of activity relating to Hangar 30 at Magnuson Park. This has been a great venue for community events, but, like most of the buildings taken over from the Navy there, Building 30 needs substantial renovation in order to be available for long term use.
For the last few years, Hangar 30 has been operating under a year-to-year permit that allows events to take place while renovation is proceeding. Unfortunately, a decision was made by the Mayor in October to limit the number of events in future years unless the building is completely renovated. While this does not affect some major events, like the library book sale, it will prevent many other events from happening.
By an amazing coincidence this decision was announced along with a plan to renovate the building for some $8.5 million shortly after the Council announced that we had secured an advance of $8.5 million from MOHAI that will allow us to continue a number of services that the Mayor had cut from the 2011 budget. The MOHAI money, incidentally, will be repaid from the City's proceeds (estimated at $15 million) from the acquisition of land by the state for the SR 520 project, expected to happen in 2013. The Council's use of this money is fully sustainable for that reason.
This closure had never been suggested to the Council, and it is not clear what the basis is for the projected costs for design and construction. The Mayor also projected more than half a million dollars in revenue if the renovation proceeded.
The Council was not willing to accept this last minute suggestion that had not been analyzed or reviewed. We are potentially willing to proceed with the renovation of Building 30, and would consider the following possibilities:
- Continuing to allow operations under the previous agreement, as long as progress towards full renovation is proceeding.
- Funding the renovation through a long-term bond (the way we usually fund such major capital projects). If the Mayor's numbers are accurate, the revenues should be enough to repay the investment over time without any additional use of the City's general fund.
As noted above, there are a number of Magnuson Park buildings that need renovation. We welcome a proposal from the Mayor that would provide a long-range plan to complete this work, and look forward to reviewing such a proposal and moving forward with these actions.
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Organic Hops! Modest Victory for Healthy Local Food – And Businesses
The US Dept of Agriculture has made a decision to require that organic beer be brewed with -- organic hops! Oddly, under the current rules, beer can be called organic even if it is brewed with non-organic hops.
That’s because of a little-known procedure that allows some products to be labeled organic even if they include things that are not organic. It’s called the “National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Section 205.606”, and the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board makes rules as to what can go on that. They make their decisions based on their evaluation of whether organic components are a significant part of the product and are readily available. It’s a very practical but obscure procedure that tries to figure out what really works in the real world. Conceivably it has the potential for abuse, but is designed to be a professional determination based on evidence.
Last month I (along with many other folks concerned about organic standards and organic beer) sent comments to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in support of removing hops (Humulus lupulus) from the, as a non-organically produced agricultural product allowed in or on processed products labeled as “organic.” The current inclusion of hops on the National List means that producers of organically-certified beer do not have to use organic hops. The American Organic Hop Growers Association’s (AOHGA) petitioned the USDA to change the current rules and I support removing hops from the National List for the following reasons:
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Removal would stimulate the organic hop industry in Washington State. The Yakima region produces 75% of the conventional hops used by US breweries. But most brewers source their organic hops from Europe or New Zealand because the US organic hops market is weak due to the inclusion of hops on the National List in 2007. Progressive, large and small-scale family farms in the Northwest are currently growing organic hops or would choose to do so if there were greater demand by breweries. We want to keep the jobs and revenue in Washington.
- ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS: Growing hops without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will support the health of our farm and water resources.
- BENEFITS TO SMALL BUSINESS: Craft breweries are an important part of Washington’s economy. Northwest breweries would use more organic hops if market conditions were conducive to competitive pricing. But the inclusion of hops on the National List has prevented a fair marketplace for hops. Because breweries are allowed to use non-organic hops in their organically certified beer, there is little incentive for them to purchase the more expensive organic hops. Perceiving a weak market for organic hops, growers lack incentive to allocate resources to growing organic hops. As a result, the market risks currently inherent in organic hop production inhibit the growth potential of this important agricultural industry.
I am happy to report that at their annual meeting, the NOSB voted unanimously in favor of removing hops from the National List on January 1, 2013. Its recommendation will now proceed to the National Organic Program’s rulemaking process to be finalized. The two-year lead time will give hop growers time to identify, plant, and process specific quantities and varieties of hops and it will give brewers ample time to source organic hops for their organic beers.
It might seem strange for a Seattle elected to weigh in on an issue so seemingly removed from Seattle’s priorities. On the contrary, I did so because I know that my constituents want to buy and consume local, sustainably-produced products. The resulting benefit to Yakima’s hop growers is precisely the sort of win-win central to my Seattle For Washington campaign. Another good reason to drink locally – it’s good for all of us!
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Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
-- James Belasco and Ralph Stayer
I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
-- Thomas Edison
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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