Urban Politics #51: How Much Money Do We Have?


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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.

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CONTENTS:

  • How Much Money Do We Have?
  • Economic Projections For The City
  • What Was Cut From The Mayor’s Budget
  • City Council Funded Projects
    · Downtown Dental Clinic
    · Decommissioning Of Fire Engines
    · Artswest Theater
    · Housing Preservation Fund
    · Maintenance Of City Owned Trees
    · More Animal Control Officers
    · Summer Playground Staffing
  • Neighborhood Plan Implementation

How Much Money Do We Have?

The City Government had a total budget of approx. $1.93 billion in 1998. The new proposed budget for 1999 would be $2.04 billion. But three-quarter of these funds is outside of the general fund. They are flow-through funds from other jurisdictions like the State and the Federal Government or are from our City owned utilities, with revenues that cannot be commingled with our general funds.

It is the remaining funds, (approx. $523 million in 1999, and $537 million in 2000) that is the focus of the Mayor’s budget and the City Council’s review and ultimate passage of it. However, the City Council does not start at ground zero in evaluating the proposed budget. We do not, for better or worse, do zero-based budgeting, e.g. we do not question every line item in the budget.

In practice, the Council looked at what changes the Mayor proposed to the budget and made some adjustments which amounted to about $3.1 million in cuts in 1999 and $1.7 million cuts in 2000. At the same time, the Council added some funding ($1.1 mill. for 1999 & $2.7 mill. in 2000) for programs that the Mayor either ignored or had funded at a lower level. The total adjustments amount to moving less than one percent of the budget around.

Economic Projections For The City

The City Council received economic forecasting data than was unavailable at the time to the Mayor. Consequently our projections for future revenue were lowered and the budget was cut accordingly, as is noted above.

Economists Dick Conway and Doug Pedersen are predicting a substantial drop in the local employment growth rate, from 5.1% in 1997 to 1.6% in 2000. The growth rate for personal income will decline from 9.4% to 5.8% over the same period.

In particular, aerospace employment (Boeing Co.) is forecast to drop by over 15,000 from its peak of the last quarter of 1997. These employees, even if they live outside the city, greatly contribute to our revenue stream through the payment of sales tax. All sources of tax revenue were predicted to decline with the exception of property tax.

What Was Cut From The Mayor’s Budget

The largest cut was from the creation of the Office of Housing. Its status was diminished, which lowered operating costs and some of its support staff would be shared with other departments. The number of staff promoting the construction of affordable housing units and expanding the housing market in select communities, however, remained the same.

The second largest cut was due to eliminating the proposed motorized trail bike police patrol unit for downtown. This unit would have been largely subsidized with federal dollars for the first two years, but afterwards the city would have had to pick up the costs. Like some other major cities around the country, we declined to accept this program. With limited funds coming from a downturn in the economy, the council felt that the public safety emphasis should be on getting more patrol officers throughout the city and not more traffic cops downtown.

There were also a number of new revenue sources identified by the Council. Two of the largest came from jail cost reductions and an increase in Seattle Center parking revenues. The former should result in about $250,000 a year as a result of fewer arrests and incarcerations due to the deterrent effect of the recently passed auto impoundment ordinance. A one dollar parking fee increase at the Seattle Center will result in even slightly larger revenue.

City Council Funded Projects

After much negotiation, the Mayor and the City Council, lead by Budget Chair Martha Choe, have agreed on a budget. It will come before this Monday’s City Council meeting for a final vote and is expected to pass. Following is a description of just a few of the City Council’s additions to the budget. Although, I mention a key proponent on some, other individual Council Members were also instrumental to a program’s inclusion in the budget.

Downtown Dental Clinic

This clinic was planned for closure and the City Council (Richard Conlin) decided that it should be funded for 1999 at its present level, with funding drastically cut in 2000 in the expectation that the County and other funding sources will be able to make up the difference.

The clinic has 3,600 patient visits a year, most of its clients are elderly. Closure of the clinic could lead to increased costs to the health care system since the elderly would not likely make it to more distant clinics and therefore their postponed dental care would lead to more emergency medical care.

Decommissioning Of Fire Engines

In addition to hiring 28 new employees, the Council (Tina Podlodowski) and the Mayor agreed to not decommission any fire engines or stations. Instead a “light force” proposal was adopted. According to the Fire Dept. the service level to Seattle citizens will actually increase slightly with this strategy. The Fire Dept. will be placing more personnel at the scene quicker. This is due in large part to the addition of 6 on duty firefighters throughout the city in a new configuration of firefighters and fire fighting equipment within the fire stations.

Artswest Theater

Currently there is no performing arts theater in West Seattle, a neighborhood of over 84,000 residents, representing approx. one-fifth of Seattle’s population.

ArtsWest is a West Seattle nonprofit in the process of making improvements to a building located at 4711 California Ave. They intend to purchase it for a 150 seat performing arts theater for live performances, a lobby/gallery for art exhibitions, space for art classes, and community meetings. Washington State’s Building for the Arts Program panel has recommended them for $300,000. The city will provide a matching amount.

ArtsWest will have to provide proof of theater ownership as well as neighborhood access and a program of discounted admissions to the facility for the public.

Housing Preservation Fund

Over the next several years, approximately 600 of Seattle’s 3,600 project based, Section 8 housing units are at high risk of being converted to market rate rentals or other uses as federal contracts expire, or some owners decide to “opt out” of their contracts. In addition, as rents escalate and the value of rental properties increase, hundreds of non-subsidized low-income housing units are priced out of range of many low-income residents.

One million dollars of savings from reducing expenses of the Mayor’s original Office of Housing proposal will now go into a fund dedicated to low-income housing preservation (Peter Steinbrueck). The City has no similar existing source of funding.

Community partners will be sought to work with the City to preserve low-income properties by “tying them down” when they become available. The funds’ money could be replenished if it is used as a revolving loan fund that would require loan repayments under certain conditions. For instance, a new owner could repay the loan from the city’s pool of funds made available to non-profit developers.

Maintenance Of City Owned Trees

The City has been planting thousands of trees in both parks and in parking strips. And now with the Millennium Woods Legacy project, thousands more will be planted within the coming year. With so many trees being planted it is more important than ever before that the City take responsibility for maintaining our urban forest.

I’ve also received many calls from citizens complaining about the care of our park trees and those bordering our neighborhood streets. Consequently I was pleased to be able to obtain additional funds for adding Park and SeaTrans tree maintenance crews.

More Animal Control Officers

Animal control staff had been decreased by 25% five years ago and has not fully recovered. In this budget cycle the City Council (Jan Drago) added three new positions: an enforcement officer, an animal shelter worker and a pet- licensing technician.

These additions provide the increased enforcement promised by the City in 1997 when the permanent off-leash program was authorized, improved customer service in shelter operations and an increased revenue stream because of increased numbers of pet licenses sold.

Animal control will now be able to target delinquencies and unlicensed animals, thereby increasing revenues to the city’s General Fund and the Park Fund. The shelter will now be open 6-7 days per week, instead of the current 5, thereby allowing more adoptions and redemptions and fewer animal kills. There is a direct correlation between the number of animals adopted and the number of days the shelter is open.

Summer Playground Program Staffing

The City Council (Sue Donaldson) will provide for six Summer Playground Programs, commonly used as “no cost” summer “child care” programs, throughout Seattle’s neighborhoods. The added sites would be Lake City Playground, Roxhill Playground, Lakeridge Playfield, Soundview Playfield, Fairmount Playfield and Westcrest Park. Each site will receive a Recreation Leader for the summer program.

Neighborhood Plan Implementation

Although this item was neither an add nor a cut from the Mayor’s budget, for a short time it was the most controversial when some folks thought that it might be cut. The Mayor and the City Council had agreed to triple the amount of neighborhood matching funds and to implement the 37 neighborhood plans to be completed next year. Although these are two separate neighborhoods related programs both require the city to hire additional staff, even while retiring planners who have completed their neighborhood planning efforts.

Several Council Members lead by Richard McIver questioned the need for adding new area sector managers and project scoping staff. He suggested it might be more affective to give the money directly to the neighborhoods rather than hiring staff.

Jim Diers, executive director of the Dept. of Neighborhoods, forcefully and convincingly argued against it. He noted that if the six sector managers for implementing the neighborhood plans were eliminated and the funds were given directly to the 37 neighborhood planning groups, it would amount to less than $17,000 apiece – not enough to accomplish any real improvements. Instead the sector managers could provide better value to the neighborhoods by coordinating services between various city departments thereby avoiding duplication and increasing the possibility of leveraging outside funds.

Council Member Margaret Pageler best caught my concerns when she asked in so many words, why is it we have to add staff every time we want to do something? I’m tempted to consider aggregating the amount the city spends on planners and consultants, and just give the money to the neighborhoods, similar to how the $1 million of Neighborhood Street Funds are distributed every two years through the City Neighborhood Council.

At some point the city should determine what is a reasonable overhead to incur for delivering neighborhood funds? Is there a better, more efficient way to do it? I don’t know, but I’d like to see the Council consider a pilot program that could take a radically different approach to our current one.

Keep in touch…

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Comment from Jan
Time September 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Great job
Respect

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