Point of View
Summer will be a memory in less than a month. The last raspberries from the Cascade Neighborhood Farmers Market are in my refrigerator and must be eaten before they sprout mousy hairs.
In this Point of View I want to share information on two national issues affecting Seattle: the recession and health care reform. In addition, I want to update you on a project I am working on: saving a homeless women’s center named Mary’s Place.
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The City Budget and Economic Conditions
At the beginning of 2009 the ramifications of the recession were felt in every aspect of our economy. Tax revenue declined more rapidly than projected in the 2009-2010 budget adopted last fall.
The City responded quickly and focused on cutting expenses to maintain a balanced budget. It is unfortunate that the Seattle Public Library will close all branches for a week. To balance the upcoming budget additional and significant reductions in the City budget will have to be implemented for 2010. We begin our 2010 budget work in late September.
If you are interested in learning more I encourage you to explore this site here which provides a thoughtful historical perspective and projections for the future.
This has been the worst recession since the 1930s for the US. But for the Seattle area the recession of 1969-1971 was worse when unemployment rose to nearly 12.4%. Unemployment increased from 4.5% in December ’07 to 9.3% in June of this year for the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area.
Forecasts are risky but many experts believe the economy is starting to improve. Historically recovery from recessions takes a great deal of time.
We anticipate that there will be a $72.5 million shortfall or 8% budget gap in the 2010 budget that we adopted last fall. We are looking at options to close the gap. The City’s labor unions approved a ten day unpaid furlough of most City employees to avoid layoffs. I very much appreciate the sacrifice city employees are making and hope you will join me in thanking them. This will save the City approximately $8 million. We have $30 million in the City’s “rainy day” fund (the Revenue Stabilization Account) for times like this. However, these are one-time sources to close the immediate gap. The one-time nature of these funding sources creates additional pressure on the upcoming 2011 budget.
The Mayor is preparing his 2010 budget proposal now. The Council recently sent him a letter stating our priorities.
While we will have a new Mayor in January, the 2010 budget will be adopted prior to his assuming office so the first year of the new Mayor’s term will be executing the budget proposed by the current Mayor with the changes made by the Council.
The demand for City services has increased as families look for less expensive recreation options closer to home. Registration for programs at our community centers and other Park and Recreation facilities increased by 21% this spring compared to last year. The Amy Yee Tennis Center, reported an increase of 19% in registrations over last year.
Our library is also seeing increased use at the branches, the mobile services and via the system’s on-line website.
Because Seattle voters supported passage of the parks and library levies over the past several years we have the resources required to offer outstanding options to the residents of Seattle.
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Health Care Reform
Recently I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with members of Seattle’s Conservation Corps. The Conservation Corps provides recently homeless adults with on-the-job training, combined with case management and education for future permanent job opportunities. The group I met with included men and women ranging from mid-twenties to fifty-something.
I asked the group how many had a physician or health insurance. They looked at me as if I had to be joking. One of the younger members said “none of us do”.
These individuals are among the millions who do not have health insurance. If they do require health care they often turn to the emergency rooms of our hospitals.
The mission of the Seattle-King County Public Health Department is to ensure the health and safety of all residents of King County. That obligation means that it oversees the health and well-being of over 1.8 million people from very diverse backgrounds and lifestyles.
Most people know that the public health department inspects restaurants to make sure the food is safe, it tracks and treats epidemics such as the H1N1 virus (“swine flu”), and it ensures that sanitation services from garbage collection to sewage treatment is operating properly.
However, even in the safest environment, people become ill, have accidents, or suffer from chronic disease. These individuals need access to medical care. The public health department provides safety net medical services to those who do not have access to care.
While the Board of Health does not take a position on a particular health care financing mechanism, we have identified six health reform principles that we are advocating for.
Last week I joined the Seattle/King County Board of Health members and representatives from the Kitsap County Health District and the Director of Public Health for Snohomish County, to met with Senator Maria Cantwell's health aide, Mark Iozzi to urge her support for health care reform.
Harborview's Executive Director projects $150 million in uncompensated care in 2009 and, Gary Goldbaum, the Director of Public Health for Snohomish County, said that the unreimbursed costs in Snohomish County were approximately $60 million.
We also met with Representatives Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee and Dave Reichert and several local state representatives.
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Community Cause - Mary’s Place
Several years ago I visited the women of Mary’s Place. Mary’s Place is a Day Center, open from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday, for homeless women. It is operated by the Church of Mary Magdalene. Mary’s Place was near City Hall housed on the property of the beautiful First United Methodist Church on Fifth Avenue (First United).
Shortly after my visit Mary’s Place learned it had to move. First United planned to sell the property to a developer who would restore the historic church and demolish the building where Mary’s Place was located to make way for an office tower. Mary’s Place asked for help in finding a new site.
I contacted several people for ideas. Dan McGrady of Vulcan, Inc. became their champion. He helped them move in March 2008 to a building owned by Denny Park Lutheran Church in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
The Mayor and City Council wanted to make sure that the service of First United to homeless people would continue and we also supported the preservation of the old church. The City agreed to provide $500,000 to First United to continue its homeless services at its new location. Many people assumed that Mary’s Place would move into the new First United building when it was completed.
However, Mary’s Place and First United were not able reach agreement on their relationship at the new site. First United determined it would meet its commitment by providing homeless services in another manner and not in partnership with Mary’s Place.
The Denny Park site has always been temporary site. The Lutheran Church is considering sale or redevelopment of the site used by Mary’s Place. Mary’s Place is on a month to month lease and is anxious to find a permanent location.
Mary’s place needs a building with 6,000 to 7,000 square feet to be able to provide showers, meeting rooms, dining and health care services. The location should be near the Metro free ride zone for accessibility.
Last week I visited the volunteers and women of Mary’s Place. I was deeply moved by the stories I heard and the women I met.
This is one of the few places where homeless women who have fled violence, sexual assault or who have mental illness or drug and alcohol addiction can go during the day for a shower and a warm meal after spending the night sleeping outdoors
Here is what a nurse who helps out at Mary’s Place wrote to me:
“As a nurse at Mary's Place, I see 10-20 women per day for health concerns ranging from minor scrapes to worries about influenza. These women trust me. I have worked hard over the past year to gain that trust and now have close relationships with a very vulnerable population that is often afraid or unable to access health care elsewhere. This type of grassroots care is the key to a solid public health system, and I believe that Mary's Place offers an incredible resource to Seattle's homeless women by giving them an alternative place for seeking this type of care. Women know that they can come here for cold medicine, hand sanitizer, body lotion, fever reducers, and for blood sugar/pressure monitoring. I am extremely concerned that without Mary's Place, an entire group of Seattle's most vulnerable citizens will be left without the much needed care that we now provide.”
Before I left I told the women that they would not have to search alone. I am working to help them find a new location and the funds to help develop the new center.
If you have ideas or locations or if you would like further information please contact me.
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I hope you enjoy the final days of summer and I look forward to seeing you in the community.
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Parks and Seattle Center Committee
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