Mike McGinn, Mayor
5/22/2012 2:30:00 PM
Aaron Pickus (206) 684-4000
Mayor asks Seattleites to share their budget priorities
New online simulation to help residents better understand City's budget process
SEATTLE - Today the City of Seattle launched an online budget simulation to help residents better understand City budget challenges. This simulation is part of the City's commitment to make the budget process more transparent and accessible to the public.
The web-based application gives users the opportunity to address the constraints and tradeoffs facing city policymakers as they balance the budget. The mayor and Council have the most discretion over operating expenditures associated with the General Fund, which pays for services such as police, fire, parks and libraries. By law, the City must adopt balanced budgets.
"This budget simulation is a new way for the City to engage the public as we address a projected $32 million shortfall," said McGinn. "This builds on our efforts to make government accessible to everyone, like launching data.seattle.gov, streamlining our website and holding town halls across the city. It's a challenge to put together a budget that reflects Seattle's values. I look forward to seeing how residents use this tool to simulate that challenge."
The tool, located at www.seattle.gov/budgetsimulation, simulates a challenging process that takes several months to complete each year. The simulation is further complicated by a couple of situational updates, just like in the real world. Players are first asked to set their highest priority and then chose budget actions, categorized as "cultural amenities, basic services, and administrative savings, taxes and fees," from a list of potential cuts and other actions. Once players have made their decisions, they are presented with a summary of the resulting impacts. At the end of the simulation, players have the opportunity to let the mayor know their highest priority and to share specific ideas.
Seattle projects a $32 million General Fund shortfall in 2013 and 2014. While the City is seeing good news as the economy slowly recovers from the Great Recession, growth in revenues continues to be subdued. After accounting for inflation, the City's General Fund tax revenue is projected to grow at an average of just one percent from 2011 to 2015. This growth rate is just one quarter of the previous post-recessionary periods of 3.9 percent between 1995 and 2000, and 4.1 percent between 2005 and 2007.
"This growth rate is not sufficient to maintain the costs of existing services plus emerging needs," City Budget Director Beth Goldberg said. "The city continues to face budget shortfalls, and after four years of reductions, the budget decisions ahead have become more difficult."
Goldberg notes that most of the "easy" reductions have already been incorporated into the city's base budget. "Many remaining choices could have significant impacts to services and programs," she said. "Because 50 percent of the city's $944 million General Fund is allocated to fire, police, and human services, prioritizing sustained funding for these departments could result in an even higher level of reductions for other city functions."
City departments have been given budget targets and are preparing proposals for the mayor's review this summer. McGinn presents his proposed budget to the City Council on September 24. The Council then deliberates and conducts public budget hearings over the next couple of months, adopting the final budget in mid- to late November. The city budgets on a biennial basis, and is starting a new two-year cycle with the adoption of 2013 budget and the endorsement of the 2014 budget this fall. The 2014 endorsed budget will be adopted in the fall of 2013.
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