December 2004 - Issue No. 9
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen
Welcome to the December edition of Point of View.
It is an honor serving as your Seattle City Councilmember.
I want to thank each of you who have written and called since the beginning of the year. Your comments and ideas are very important to me.
In this newsletter I will share some highlights from my first year on the Council.
In 2005 I will continue to chair the Council's Housing, Human Services and Health Committee as well as serve as vice chair of the Urban Planning and Development Committee and as a member of the Transportation Committee. I am excited to begin working on a number of new initiatives in 2005 which I will preview in this newsletter.
I apologize for the duplicate copy of Point of View this month if you have already received my year-end newsletter by U.S. mail. If you would rather not receive the hardcopy version, please let me know.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. I'm looking forward to working with you next year.
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee
Inside this issue:
Protecting Seattle residents from deceptive tax refund loans
Around tax time, we will see advertisements for "rapid refunds" and "instant cash" in the mail and newspapers. These products, known as Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs), are marketed as providing tax refunds faster than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Early this year members from the local chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), contacted me about RALs. They expressed concern because often the fees are very high, the loans may not arrive much faster than an IRS refund and, the alternatives to using RALs are not always fully disclosed.
National research has shown that people who can least afford these loans are often the ones who take them out including low and moderate income families and senior citizens. RALs can carry annual interest rates as high as several hundred percent!
The goal of the legislation I introduced was to ensure that consumers are fully informed before applying for these expensive loans and understand the impact of the high fees and interest rates. The legislation requires tax preparers to fully disclose to customers all information related to RALs or face fines and penalties from the City.
The new law allows citizens who take out these loans to file a complaint through the City's Hearing Examiner to seek redress if the company didn't provide full disclosure. Seattle and New York are the only cities in the country with RAL disclosure regulation.
If you would like more information about the law you can find a copy on the web at http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/CBOR1.htm (type in 121594 in the "ordinance" field) or call the city's Consumer Affairs Office at (206) 386-1298.
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Creating more affordable housing
Everyone agrees: We need more affordable housing in Seattle.
The rule of thumb is that a household should not spend more than 30% of its income on housing. In Seattle, more than 91,000 households have housing costs greater than 30% of their income.
The legislation was approved by the Council and the program is available in 17 neighborhoods that are either economically distressed or where the city is seeking to create more mixed-income housing density to meet growth management goals.
For Seattle to be a diverse and healthy city we need to have a range of affordable housing. The property tax exemption costs the average homeowner in Seattle about a quarter ($0.25) a year for every fifty new affordable units developed. This is an important investment in supporting broader community goals through creating more density and revitalizing distressed neighborhoods.
The Housing, Human Services and Health Committee will review the results of the new ordinance next year. This is one of many creative solutions to a complex problem. I will evaluate the effectiveness of this program and other ideas in 2005.
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Support for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered individuals
Seattle is known as a leader on equal rights for all its residents. The Council adopted two major actions that I sponsored this year to further these goals. In March, the Mayor and I introduced legislation recognizing the validity of all marriage licenses, regardless of gender, from other jurisdictions and extended protections afforded under the City's equal protection ordinance to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgenderd individuals. Here are some examples of how the new laws will impacts Seattle residents:
- Employers within the City of Seattle will not be able to discriminate against married couples regardless of gender: from hiring to firing, to the provision of benefits;
- Landlords and real estate agents within the City must treat all married couples equally in all real estate transactions. For example, many leases give special rights to surviving spouses of a lessee. Those rights now must be available to same sex spouses; and
- Many married couples run businesses together in Seattle. If the spouse who holds the business license passes away, this ordinance will automatically grant that license to the surviving spouse regardless of gender.
This summer we were reminded of the violence that results from prejudice and hatred when a man was severely beaten by a group of young men who attacked him because he is gay. The outcry and assistance from the community and the great work of the Seattle Police Department resulted in the apprehension of the suspects in the attack. I was impressed by the work of the Police Chief and his officers. They are to be commended for their quick response.
During the Council's review of the 2005 City budget, Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and I led the effort to fund programs that support gay and lesbian bisexual and transgendered 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 establishes for the first time a fund source dedicated to the health and safety of vulnerable LGBT youth.
Much work remains to create a supportive environment for everyone in Seattle. I will continue to work on behalf of our LGBT community on the City Council.
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Summary of key Council action in 2004
The Council has had an extremely busy and productive year. I wanted to share with you some of the major actions taken in 2004. If you would like to learn more about these issues, please contact my office at (206) 684-8808.
Repealed Car Impound Ordinance: I was pleased to be part of the new majority on the Council which voted to repeal the language in the 1998 City ordinance which required the immediate impounding of vehicles driven by people accused of driving with a suspended license. The ordinance had a devastating impact upon low-income people who lost their cars because they could not afford to pay for the towing and storage fees of the impounded cars. The revised law will focus impoundment on the most hazardous drivers rather than those accused of lesser offenses. I am pleased to have co-sponsored this legislation.
Lifted UW Lease Lid: Since the early 70's, a cap has been in place on how much office space the University of Washington can lease off-campus in nearby neighborhoods. The UW is a major economic engine for our city while the U-District has continued to struggle. In November, we lifted the lease lid while including significant neighborhood protections to help revitalize this community.
Confirmed a new City Light Superintendent: In February, the Council unanimously confirmed Jorge Carrasco as the new superintendent of City Light. This decision set a new and promising course for public power in Seattle. During confirmation, I was pleased to hear that Mr. Carrasco was committed to protecting our utility's long-standing tradition of offering rate assistance to seniors and low-income families while continuing our responsible stewardship of the environment.
Approved Master Plan for Magnuson Park: In June, the Council moved forward with a plan to develop 13 sports fields at Magnuson Park. I advocated for this more scaled back approach due to concerns voiced by environmental organizations and neighbors in the community. Compared with the original proposal by the Mayor, there will be fewer lit fields, greater environmental protections and more citizen involvement during the development phase of the project.
Developed the Families and Education Levy: The Council spent months crafting the final details of a levy package put before the voters in September. The levy focused on early learning, student health, out-of-school time activities, family involvement and programs for at-risk middle and high school students. One of my priorities was to ensure that the health clinics were adequately funded. The voters overwhelmingly approved the 7 year/$116 million levy.
Moving the Monorail Forward: The Council devoted many months of work on design elements and the final route of the Monorail. We approved an agreement with the Seattle Monorail Authority to allow the Monorail to be built on city streets contingent upon an independent financial review which is being conducted now. The Council will receive the financial review report early next year.
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A look ahead to 2005
I'm excited about working on some new initiatives in 2005. Here is a look at some of the projects I hope to get underway shortly:
Creating low-income emergency assistance: There are virtually no emergency assistance programs for low-income seniors and people with disabilities who are having a difficult time paying their water, sewer and garbage bills. I will explore options to develop low-income assistance programs similar to those we have for our City Light customers.
Improving our response to elder abuse and neglect: Reports of elder abuse and neglect are increasing. I will host a community forum on this topic and will work with the Seattle Police Department to identify how we can improve our capacity to investigate suspected elder abuse and neglect cases.
Implementing "Seattle Stat": Early this year I initiated an effort to give the public more information about how their tax dollars were spent on local services. Other communities have begun to put statistics online detailing the performance of city departments and whether goals are being met. "Seattle Stat" will be our effort to make this type of information available on the web to increase public awareness and agency accountability. Funding was included in the 2005 budget for this project last month. I will keep you apprised of our progress on this project.
Enhancing the delivery of public health services: I will launch a "healthy communities initiative" this year - a fresh look at how the City is spending nearly $10 million on public health services. I want to review our public health priorities, hear from you on what you think we should focus on in terms of urban health care needs and budget according to this feedback for 2006. This will help us spend every dollar for maximum benefit to our community.
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