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November 2004 - Issue No. 8
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Welcome to the November edition of Point of View.

On Monday, the City Council approved the 2005 budget. In this month's newsletter, I summarize the highlights and some of the major changes the Council made to the Mayor's proposal. After seven weeks of day-long meetings, public hearings and staff briefings, I'm pleased with the budget we adopted.

I appreciate the thousands of letters, emails and phone calls I received detailing your budget priorities. It helped me gain a better understanding of the numerous ways city services impact people's lives. With more than $100 million cut from the budget in the last three years, there was a consensus among councilmembers that we needed to find a way to preserve essential city services in 2005. The budget strongly reflects this sentiment.

The 2005 general fund budget is approximately $680 million. In order to restore critical services for low-income families, seniors and the disabled as well as fund key neighborhood transportation projects, a modest utility tax increase will go into effect next year. In the end, this budget was balanced through a combination of the utility tax, select fee increases, administrative cuts and increased efficiencies in how the city conducts its business.

This was my first experience developing the budget as a City Councilmember. I've learned to appreciate the many hours spent by our staff during this process. They, and the thousands of Seattle residents who took time to express their views, are the unsung heroes in helping us make the most informed decisions possible. I want to thank all of them for their hard work.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the 2005 budget. Please e-mail or call me with your thoughts or questions. You can reach me by calling (206) 684-8808 or by email 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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The 2005-06 Budget Highlights:

Helping low-income families and at-risk youth

As chair of the Council's Housing, Human Services and Health Committee, I was concerned about the proposed budget cuts to programs that help low-income families and at-risk youth in Seattle. I made it a priority to restore these funds to continue a variety of highly successful programs that support the most vulnerable people in our communities. Below is a list of some of the programs that were originally cut that will be restored in the final budget.

Program Funding restored by the Council in 2005 Description
Access to Services $58,440 Funds agencies that provide information and assistance to communities of color and at-risk populations by helping people receive critical services.
Policy Advocacy $106,572 Funds agencies that increase awareness and support for human services at the state and federal level.
Technical Support $132,827 Provides new non-profit agencies with training and support to develop self-sustaining operations and help them succeed.
Community Service Contracts $82,000 Helps people with financial challenges get their suspended drivers licenses reinstated.
Teen Parent Program $54,740 Provides parenting teens with important child-raising and health care skills.
Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender Youth Programs $125,000 Funds programs for at-risk and homeless LGBT youth.
Legal Clinics $8,900 Supports free legal services in 25 neighborhoods.
Soar Opportunity Fund $157,875 Funds public/private partnerships for youth programs.

I led the effort to restore funding to programs such as the Crisis Clinic, the International District Emergency Center and the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence to make sure specific populations have the ability to find out about and to receive supportive services. These programs play a critical role in helping communities of color, gay and lesbian youth and victims of domestic violence receive immediate assistance.

Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and I worked to sponsor a budget action to fund programs that support gay and lesbian youth. We added $125,000 in 2005 to support agencies such as Lambert House that work with LGBT youth to overcome homelessness, drugs and alcohol abuse and the effects of discrimination at an early age. This action will establish for the first time a fund source dedicated to the health and safety of vulnerable LGBT youth.

I heard over and over again from Seattle residents during the budget that protecting the poor and vulnerable was an important priority. The City Council has lived up to its commitment to fund critical human services in the 2005 budget. I want to thank my colleagues for preserving our social services safety net.

Return to Index

Protecting and expanding library services

Last month, I wrote of my concern about the proposed elimination of the public library bookmobile. Our library needs to remain accessible to everyone. There are thousands of people who are homebound or too frail or too young to drive or take a bus to a branch library. As far as I'm concerned, the bookmobile is our 30th branch library. Rather than eliminate it, I challenged our library staff to find a more efficient and cost-effect way to operate this service.

The Council restored $500,000 for bookmobile services. These funds coupled with existing library resources should maintain the current service levels of the bookmobile. Councilmembers Jan Drago, Jean Godden and I also pushed forward a plan requiring library staff to evaluate best practices for mobile services from across the country to help develop a more efficient and sustainable operation for this service.

In addition to funding the bookmobile, under the leadership of Councilmember Jan Drago, an additional $500,000 was identified to fund the library's book collections budget. With over two million items in its current collection, the Seattle Public Library system is growing into a world-class institution. Seattleites love to read and adequately funding the collections budget is key to the library's continued growth and sustainability. These dollars will go a long way in supporting the library's mission of becoming a lifelong learning center for everyone in our community.

Program Funding restored by the Council in 2005 Description
Library Bookmobile $500,000 Maintains current mobile library service levels for seniors, disabled and children
Collections Budget $500,000 Increases funding for book collection budget to $3.2 million

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Maintaining our neighborhood roads and sidewalks

One of the most disturbing budget trends is the declining funds we have available to make transportation improvements within the city. This is occurring while the needs for maintaining our streets and bridges far exceed the dollars available. Transportation represents our greatest financial challenge within the City's budget.

Under the leadership of Councilmember Richard Conlin, the Council has begun a detailed review of the City's spending on transportation infrastructure. A citizens advisory committee recommended that an additional $25 million in annual revenue is needed to begin relieving our transportation maintenance backlog. New and dedicated revenue will be needed soon - either through a local or regional ballot measure, earmarking existing general fund dollars for transportation and/or obtaining further financial assistance from the state legislature.

We cannot neglect our basic infrastructure needs. Below is a list of transportation programs the Council restored funding to help keep our city streets safe and functional.

Program Funding restored by the Council in 2005 Description
Arterial Street Paving $1,000,000 Increase funding for arterial asphalt and concrete paving program to $4.8 million
Bridge Maintenance $216,000 Restores funding for staff to conduct bridge inspections
Neighborhood Traffic Services $422,000 Funds traffic circles, speed watch, parking signage along neighborhood arterials
Bike and Pedestrian Improvements $40,960 (2006) Program that improves bicycle and pedestrian mobility
Traffic Signal Maintenance $103,000 (2006) Restores staffing for signal maintenance in 2006

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Keeping our parks and recreation facilities open for everyone

The City should not discourage the use of parks such as Green Lake or the Japanese Gardens or the Conservatory at Volunteer Park. Our parks help make Seattle a wonderful place to live.

The Mayor's proposed budget included an entrance fee for the Conservatory at Volunteer Park and parking meters at Green Lake, Seward, Lincoln and McCurdy parks. I understand the need to identify ways to cover expenses, but creating new fees for traditionally free services to balance the Parks Department budget seemed inappropriate. Moreover, these strategies only generated nominal revenue after the costs to administer the collection of the fees are factored.

Bottom-line, my colleagues and I believe that these parks facilities should remain accessible to everyone. We eliminated the proposed entrance fee to the Conservatory and the plans to charge for parking at several parks.

In addition, I worked with Councilmember David Della to restore funding cut in the Mayor's proposed budget to the Late Night Recreation program. This program provides a healthy and safe environment for at-risk youth in Seattle. Giving kids a place to go on weekend evenings helps keep them out of trouble. The Police Department estimates that crime has been reduced by more than 30% near Late Night centers. These funds will be used to continue the program at its current frequency in Southeast Seattle, Delridge and High Point.

Program Council Action
Volunteer Park Conservatory Eliminated proposed $5 entrance fee
Parking fees at local parks facilities Eliminated proposed $1 parking meter fee
Late Night Recreation Program Restored $152,336 to reinstate program

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Raising revenues to fund critical services

As I mentioned earlier, a combination of fee increases and administrative reductions account for a portion of the dollars identified to restore funding to key programs. But a large amount of revenue will be realized through the passage of a 1.5% increase in the utility tax rate for Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) customers. SPU's tax rates have not been increased since 1997. The 1.5% increase will generate approximately $5 million of general fund revenue a year beginning in 2005. The average homeowner will see an increase of about $1.30 on their utility bills each month.

Raising revenue through increasing fees and utility tax rates is always a difficult decision. With our current economy still slowly recovering from a recession, I am concerned about further financial burdens on city residents. But the 2005 budget marks the third consecutive year of service reductions to critical City programs. These reductions have totaled more than $100 million since 2002. My colleagues and I felt that this increase was necessary to maintain basic transportation needs, assistance for the poor and homeless as well as services for seniors, the disabled and young children in our community.

My support for increasing the utility tax was contingent on a commitment to explore and develop options to expand emergency rate assistance for seniors and low-income utility customers. I sponsored a budget action that will require SPU staff to evaluate rate/fee assistance being offered by other City departments (i.e. Seattle City Light) and review the effectiveness of the utility's current assistance programs compared with the need that exists in our community. It is very important to me that no one goes without basic needs such as a roof overhead, water and electricity. I am hopeful that we can expand the level of assistance the City can offer to those struggling to pay their utility bills.

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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