Point of View
Since mid-September the Council has worked on the 2009-2010 budget. The budget was adopted by the Council on Monday. In this edition of Point Of View I will summarize key decisions we made.
We have a saying about the budget: "The Mayor proposes and the Council disposes." Two weeks ago we learned that the City should plan for $18.2 million less revenue than projected when the Mayor submitted his budget.
Seattle is experiencing a sharp decrease in real property transactions and retail sales and business and occupation taxes. Those tax revenues go into the General Fund which supports our police, fire, parks, human services departments and other services.
The Council has a fiscally cautious approach to the City's finances and budget. During the boom times of the last couple of years we built up the City’s reserve fund (the rainy day fund) to its highest level ever - $30 Million. The reserve fund is designed to mitigate unanticipated revenue shortfalls and cushion the blow to City finances if the economy continues to slow.
We focused on making reductions to the budget that will preserve the critical services the City provides. If we have to make further reductions to the budget next year some difficult choices will have to be made because we have already cut administration and projects that have not begun. Next to be considered for cuts are direct services to the public. Some visible impacts such as reduced hours of operations or services may be unavoidable if the economy worsens beyond our current forecasts. We have not had to use the reserve fund yet and I hope that day does not arrive.
Our budget priorities included human services and housing, public safety, transportation and pedestrian safety. Our human services programs provide individuals with the critical services to help them with food and housing. As the extent of the economic crisis becomes starker, preserving funding of essential services to help people in financial crisis is paramount.
We made budget reductions in the Parks Department budget. My goal was to avoid budget reductions which would cut direct public services or parks maintenance. We accomplished this by not adding new staff and by not starting new projects. I sought to continue to keep the Volunteer Park Conservatory open on Mondays rather than close it as the Mayor proposed. The Conservatory funding added by the Council will allow full operations for the first six months of 2009.
Through a variety of budget cuts in numerous non-critical services the Council was able to significantly increase funding for a variety of human service needs. The following changes were made by the Council to the budget proposed by the Mayor for 2009 and 2010.
Providing Food and Shelter to People Facing Financial Crisis:
- Homeless Services – Increased homeless services and housing by $2.5 million for:
- 70 new shelter beds
- Hotel/motel vouchers for homeless families
- Increased day center hours, hygiene and case management services for chronically homeless people
- Increased eviction prevention funding
- 32 additional housing units for homeless people
- Food & Nutrition
- Added $296,000 for increased Food Stamp outreach and enrollment in other assistance programs
- Added $682,000 for increased food purchases for food banks
- Added $600,000 to food programs for homebound elderly and disabled
- Senior Centers Funding
- Added $417,000 for Senior Centers
Seattle contracts for human service programs such as food or shelter programs with private non-profit organizations. The City’s Human Services and other departments must contract with effective non-profit organizations through a competitive process.
This practice was adopted because in the past some non-profit organizations would organize their supporters to lobby the City Council to fund their particular organization. The result was that the organizations which could turn up the political pressure and pack the Council Chamber with the most people, on occasion, received funding that did not align to the effectiveness of the services they provided.
The era of this lobbying tactic has been transformed into an effective competitive process based on metrics and performance. We are focused on how effective each non-profit is in supporting those most in need. The Council has insisted upon an objective contracting process based upon community needs and the ability of the non-profits to operate programs effectively.
Working with our Troubled Youth and Adults in the Criminal Justice System
- Public Safety/Human Services Programs – $950,000 to restore funding for youth and adult crime prevention programs including:
- Communities Uniting Rainier Beach (CURB): For outreach, service intervention, and case management for up to 75 young adults involved in low-level criminal activity
- Get Off the Streets (GOTS): Provide peer outreach, service intervention, and case management for up to 50 adults from the Central Area who are continually involved in the criminal justice system
- Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services (Co-STAR): Provide housing and treatment services to individuals who create public safety concerns in the downtown area
- Library Collections – Added an additional $300,000 per year for our library’s books, CDs and other media
- Fully funded computer center hours at our community centers
- Reduced fee increases proposed for adult soccer leagues
- Added funding to avoid closure on Mondays of the Volunteer Park Conservatory
- We funded the City’s work with our suburban neighbor cities to look for a site for a new jail and passed a strong statement that we want to look at all reasonable alternatives to building a new jail. All Councilmember’s would like to avoid building and maintaining a new jail if at all possible.
I am very proud of the City Council for supporting these programs and services and for continuing to put people first. Also, as Parks and Seattle Center Committee chair I am gratified that we were able to minimize cuts to basic Parks programs and services such as maintenance and to minimize fee increases.
General Fund spending will be $910 million in 2009 and $940 million in 2010. The 2009 budget will be $15 million less than the 2008 budget.
Community Cause: Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse – Youth Ensemble
Recently I attended a production of Othello produced by the Youth Ensemble of the Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse. The City owns the Bathhouse Theater and the productions are by Seattle Public Theater, a private non-profit organization.
These young talented actors put on an energetic and fine production. I spoke to some of the parents and the staff and I heard about the importance of the theater to the community. I could see that the building needs significant repairs including the seats which came from the old Ridgemont Theater when it was demolished.
The Ridgemont was located on Phinney Ridge and ironically was named the Bathhouse Playhouse when it opened in 1924. The seats used by today’s Bathhouse Theater look like they came from the silent movie era and need to be replaced.
The Seattle Public Theater is working to raise funds for the replacement of the seats. This wonderful organization provides a valuable resource to our community. If you know a generous person who can donate to the Seattle Public Theater or if you would like to help or to attend one of the many theatrical productions please visit their website or call for more information at (206) 524-1300.
Click here for more information about the Ridgemont Theater
If you would like further information on any of the information above please contact me. Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. Happy Thanksgiving!
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Parks and Seattle Center Committee
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