Demystifying the Council's Budget Process

The Seattle City Council exclusively focuses on creating a budget for about two months every year, from late September through late November. This interactive budget guide is meant to make the budget process straightforward and simple to understand. Most importantly, this resource is intended to highlight when and how you can make your voice heard during the process.

Participating in the Budget Process

First, let's talk about how you can participate in the budget process.

There are the three ways you can share your insights:

  1. Budget Committee Meetings - 4 Opportunities
  2. Public Hearings - 3 Opportunities
  3. Written Comment - Anytime

Budget Committee Meetings

As the Budget Committee convenes throughout the fall, there will be three opportunities to share your comments verbally. You can sign up to speak two hours before each session, and can participate remotely or in person. If attending in person, please wear a mask. Thank you!

You can make comments on:

  • Wednesday, September 28 @ 9:30 AM
  • Tuesday, October 11 @ 9:30 AM
  • Tuesday, October 25 @ 9:30 AM
  • Monday, November 21 @ 9:30 AM

You sign Up for public comment 2 hours before the meeting begins.

Learn About Public Comment

Public Hearings on the Budget

There are three public hearings scheduled this fall. Each one is solely dedicated to hearing from Seattleites about their budget priorities, and everyone who signs up to speak will have an opportunity to do so.

Like the Budget Committee meetings, you can sign up to speak two hours before each session, and can participate remotely or in person. Please mask up if you're in-person!

  • Tuesday, October 11 @ 5:00 PM
  • Tuesday, November 8 @ 9:30 AM
  • Tuesday, November 15 @ 5:00 PM

You sign Up for public comment 2 hours before the meeting begins.

Learn About Public Comment

Written Comment

Last, but certainly not least, you can share your insights about the budget in writing. Your written feedback is welcome - and encouraged! - anytime.

There are some days when the Council will be deep into budget deliberations, and written feedback will be the best way to express your thoughts.

Find Your Councilmembers Email All 9 Councilmembers

Budget Process Overview

Now that you know how when you can participate in the budget, let's dive into the budget process.

There are the 6 stages that unfold over the course of two months. Some steps take place over the course of a day while others last a week:

Stage Date(s)
City Budget Office Overview of Proposed Budget Sept. 28
Budget Hearings (Budget Discussions & Issue ID) Oct. 11 - Oct. 14
Budget Deliberations ( Discussion of Member Proposals) Oct. 25 - Oct. 27
Balancing Package Nov. 14
Vote on Balancing Package Nov. 21
Final Action, City Council Vote Nov. 29

Budget Calendar

Here's the same overview of the budget process in calendar form.

Let's take a closer look at each one of these six stages one at a time.

City Budget Office Overview of the Proposed Budget

To kick things off, the City Budget Office gives an overview of the Mayor's proposed budget.

A little context: the Mayor works with City departments to create his budget from about February through July, and the whole thing is unveiled in September. People from the Mayor's discuss any significant changes from the previous year's budget, like significant changes to programs, staff, etc.

And as soon as the budget is publicly released, Council gets to work unpacking it to better understand it. And there's a lot to unpack!

Let's briefly take a peek into the budget.

The whole City budget is roughly $7.4 billion. Most of the City’s money - about 81% - is used to pay for utilities, transportation, administration and public safety. And much of this spending, like utilities, is consistent from year to year and doesn't change much with the annual budget process.

The City's money is split into funds. These funds help the City promote accountability for how we’re raising and spending money. The primary and most flexible fund, and the one that receives the most attention each year, is called the General Fund. It's about $1.6 billion and funds a myriad of city services, programs and personnel.

About two-thirds of the General Fund’s revenue comes from property, business, and sales taxes.

Budget Hearings:
Budget Discussions and Issue Identification

To better understand the Mayor's proposed budget, the Council unpacks many individual department budgets. People from the departments in question, the City Budget Office, and Council's policy experts - named Central Staff - all come together to do a deeper dive into the departmental budgets. Councilmembers raise questions and identify issues they'll have to address in the Council's budget.

Budget Deliberations:
Discussion of Member Proposals

This is the first step when the Council's budget begins to take shape. Between the last step and this one, Councilmembers create amendments. During this step, the Councilmembers explain and discuss their amendments. There are two types of budget amendments:

  1. Council Budget Actions (CBAs)
    CBAs change revenue, expenditures, staff positions, create provisos, and other actions with financial implications.
  2. Statements of Legislative Intent (SLIs)
    SLIs state the Council's intent, gives guidance about City policy, call for additional study or reporting, etc.

Put another way, Council Budget Actions are akin to Ordinances, and Statements of Legislative Intent are like Resolutions.

Balancing Package

After all the Councilmembers make their budget amendments, the Budget Chair - Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda - creates a balancing package: a proposal for a balanced budget that factors in all the previous input thus far: from the public, her colleagues, the Mayor, as well as her priorities. During this step, the Budget Chair and Central Staff discuss the balancing package, its priorities, and how it's unique.

Vote on the Balancing Package

Councilmembers make amendments to the balancing package, discussing and voting on each one. Once all the amendments have been considered, they take a vote on the amended balancing package as a whole.

Final Action, City Council Vote

Last, and certainly not least, the Council takes two final votes on its budget. The Council takes a final vote as the Budget Committee, and then once again as the Full City Council.

And that's it! After the Council passed the budget, it goes to the Mayor for his signature.


Thank you for reading this guide! We hope it helped clarify the budget process, and that you feel like you know how you can participate!

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