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October 2004 - Issue No. 7
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Welcome to the October edition of Point of View.

Mayor Nickels submitted his proposed 2005 budget to the City Council on September 27. We are reviewing the proposed changes from the 2004 budget and are hearing from people throughout the City about their priorities. This month, I will share my thoughts, what I'm hearing from the community and the process for adopting the 2005 City budget.

The Mayor's proposal reflects a number of changes in order to fill a $20 million gap in the City's general fund budget. This is the third year in a row that the City has faced a serious budget deficit. Many of the Mayor's proposals focus on administrative reductions within the City. However, some changes impact services many Seattle residents depend upon.

I hope to hear your thoughts about the budget. Please e-mail or call me to weigh in on the important decisions to be made in the coming weeks. You can contact me by calling (206) 684-8808 or by e-mail by clicking here.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee

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Budget Issues and Highlights:

An overview of the 2005 budget

The Mayor proposed six key strategies to fill a $20 million gap in the 2005 City budget:

  • Budget Cuts: The Mayor focused on administrative reductions in personnel in the Fleets and Facilities Department and Executive Administration but there are also a number of direct service reductions;
  • Reducing the number of City employees: The budget proposal eliminates 191 positions, the majority or which are currently vacant;
  • Increasing Fees: A key philosophy in the proposed budget is to eliminate City subsidies for user services, particularly in the Department of Planning and Development and the Fire Department and establish new fees in the Parks Department;
  • Improve Revenue: Improvements in parking enforcement, more aggressive collections strategy and a court amnesty program generated approximately $1 million in additional revenue for 2005;
  • Streetlight Case: The City will save $1 million in interest payments for City Light refunds related to the streetlight case through debt financing; and
  • Transportation Budget: The Mayor's proposal filled a major gap in transportation funding through the use of a one-time windfall of real-estate excise tax revenue.

    I am pleased that the Mayor's budget did not reduce the number of sworn staff or on-duty strength in our police and fire departments and limits the reductions in priority areas such as human services and public health. However, I am concerned with proposed budget reductions that impact seniors, the disabled and other vulnerable members of our community.

    I have heard from hundreds of Seattle residents about the budget and I encourage you to share your budget priorities as well. The next public hearing is on Thursday, November 4 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Seattle City Hall (600 4th Avenue, enter on 5th between Cherry and James Streets). As always, please contact me by e-mail or phone to share your thoughts about the 2005-06 City budget. The Council intends to vote on the budget on Friday, November 12.

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    Saving the library bookmobiles

    Many people I talk with share my concern about the proposed elimination of the Seattle Public Library's bookmobiles. The bookmobile delivers books and resources to the homebound, preschool and daycare facilities, as well as assisted living and retirement homes. This service has been a part of the library's operations since 1947. Last year, the bookmobile circulated more than 128,000 library books and resources to seniors and children in Seattle.

    Recently, I followed the bookmobile on two of its routes to see whom it serves and how it works. At each stop, most of the people using the bookmobile were very young children at day care centers or seniors or disabled people at apartment buildings or retirement homes. Clearly most would have a very difficult or impossible time going to a library without assistance.

    I do not believe the Mayor realized how many people would be harshly impacted by eliminating the bookmobiles. It is not just the children and the seniors but also their families and the staff at the sites visited by the bookmobile. Finally, I do not believe that the Library staff has developed a clear and effective alternative to mobile services.

    I am working hard to save the bookmobile and the important services it provides. I welcome your suggestions about how the bookmobile might operate more efficiently. Seattle's public library needs to remain accessible to everyone.

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    Stopping elder abuse

    The Seattle Police Department reported a 64 percent increase in elder abuse cases in 2003 and a 75 percent increase in the first quarter of 2004.

    Two years ago, when I was director of the Mayor's Office for Senior Citizens, I learned that the biggest barrier to stopping abuse and neglect was the failure to report these crimes. Major progress has been made in building public awareness of elder abuse through training, education and outreach. This has led to more reporting of suspected abuse. Now we need to face a new challenge: a lack of resources to investigate and ultimately prosecute these cases of abuse and neglect.

    The Seattle Police Department has one detective devoted to investigating elder abuse cases. National experts predict that cases of neglect and elder abuse will continue to increase over the next several years, especially in metropolitan areas like Seattle. The percentage of people over 85 is one-third higher in Seattle than anywhere else in the United States, and 19 percent of those over 65 live alone. More funding or a reallocation of existing resources is needed for the police to investigate elder abuse reports as well as help with the prevention of these crimes.

    The Mayor's budget has largely protected the needs of seniors and disabilities. However, the bookmobile and elder abuse prevention represents our commitment to the quality of life and the safety of the most vulnerable people in our community. Supporting these programs with adequate funding is a wise investment of our tax dollars.

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    Spending our dollars wisely

    By state law, King County is responsible for providing a basic level of public health services to all county residents. Through federal, state and local funding, the County Health Department's overall budget is more than $200 million. For the past several years, Seattle paid a supplemental $10 million to the County's Health Department to obtain additional services for Seattle residents.

    Determining how this $10 million supplemental payment has benefited people who live in Seattle has been challenging. In many cases it is difficult to distinguish between the 'basic services' the County is required to provide and the 'enhanced services' Seattle residents are paying for with the supplemental $10 million payment.

    For 2005, the Mayor has proposed that rather than paying King County a lump sum of $10 million for additional services, these funds will be placed in the City's Human Services Department budget. The Human Services Department will directly contract with the County Health Department or other organizations for services for Seattle residents. I agree with the Mayor's approach. It will clarify the City's relationship with the County Health Department and improve accountability and the delivery of services to our residents.

    Looking ahead to next year, the City will reevaluate its public health funding priorities. I intend to lead a "Healthy Communities Initiative" and develop a plan for Seattle that specifically targets how our public health funding will be spent in 2006. This is an exciting opportunity to make sure we are effectively spending every dollar for maximum benefit to the community. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what you believe are our most pressing urban health needs.

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    In August, we updated our newsletter distribution list and created a listserv to automate subscription and removal requests. If you have received this newsletter in error, I apologize for any inconvenience. Point of View subscription and removal requests may be found at the end of this newsletter.

    Other questions or comments about Point of View? Please email or call (206) 684-8808.

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