Urban Politics #72: Proposed City Budget For 2000


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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:

  • Proposed City Budget For 2000
  • Open Community Centers 7 Days A Week
  • Funding Public Toilets Downtown
  • Corrections

City Budget For 2000

The City operates on a 2 year (Biennium) Budget. The main portion of the two-year budget (1999 & 2000) was prepared last fall. This fall the City makes adjustments to the budget for the year 2000. The Mayor presents his proposed budget adjustments to the City Council (which he did on 9/27/99) and then the City Council must pass a final budget by November 29th.

The Mayor’s proposal is a solid one making many reasonable adjustments to the City’s budget. I agree with most of them, among those I support are the following proposals:

– Funding of the new Office of Professional Accountability within the Police Department to provide more citizen oversight

– Funding 3 critical Neighborhood Projects: acquiring the Ravenna Woods open space, designing a new community park on Capital Hill to be built over the Lincoln Reservoir, and completing the Garfield Teen Center.

– Increasing support for Public Arts from 1% to 1.5% on construction projects and expanding it to City projects outside the City Limits.

– Constructing a Skateboard Park and a small new performance space in the Seattle Center Building available for smaller and emerging performance groups

However I disagree with his proposal to contribute $1.6 million towards a new “rainy day fund” because he is already proposing that the City contribute an additional $2 million to our Emergency Subfund. This subfund is tapped when we face unexpected costs, such as damage to our bridges and streets from landslides.

The initial size of his new “rainy day fund” is less than ½ of 1% of the city’s annual general fund budget. It’s too small to matter. For years the City has easily been handling fluctuations several times the size of this contribution in its budget.

I believe this money could be better applied towards opening up our Community Centers 7 days a week and to finally getting some public toilets downtown.

Open Community Centers 7 Days A Week

As the Mayor noted in his presentation to the City Council, the response to extending the operating hours for 6 of our community centers to include weekends was overwhelming. Over five times the number of visits occurred from what we were projecting. An additional 54,000 visits took place with the new extended hours.

The City seriously considered opening the rest of its 24 community centers on the weekends as part of the levy to be voted on this November. Instead we decided to spend the levy funds on building new centers and expanding old ones rather than funding maintenance and operation costs.

But the City Council did recognize that community centers should be opened on the weekend and we promised to try to find the funding to do that. Given the tremendous response from the six centers being opened, a clear message to me is that the public wants to use their neighborhood centers on the weekends.

According to an analysis from the parks and Recreation Department, it would cost the city an additional $382,000 to open up the rest of the centers. The amount might be slightly less if those centers without gymnasiums were not included, since the demand for their use is far lower. After analyzing which centers are most likely to see an increase in use on the weekends, I will propose to the City Council that we fund this need in the City’s 2000 budget.

It’s About Time For Public Toilets

In the words of the Seattle Times this past spring “the City Council finally mustered the nerve to offer civilized potty relief downtown. Now let’s get on with it; enough of this dawdling.”

The Council decided not to pay for the cost of public toilets through advertising because of the fear that lawsuits could overturn our current restrictions on billboards in the city. We agreed to look into funding them from other sources like raising wastewater fees or tapping into Sound Transit mitigation funds.

With our public utility rates going up even without this additional cost, support for tapping into the utility income stream has dried up. And with Sound Transit staring at $200 million in over budget expenses without having even one shovel dig a hole, it’s not likely that they are going to pay for public toilets in downtown Seattle.

That leaves the City with few choices for paying for these toilets. We are left primarily with funding them through either bonds or the general fund. In addition, we have also put the newly formed Downtown Business Association on notice that we are looking to them to contribute to their cost.

But the payment structure is a detail that can be worked out later. First we need to make a commitment to pay for them. Other West Coast cities have done so. San Jose (currently has seven toilets, expecting to expand to 12) and Palo Alto (two toilets and expecting to add a third) pay their vendor $65,000 per toilet, per year on a 20 year lease to build, maintain and operate their public toilets. For about a million dollars a year we could get 15 of them.

Or if we purchased the toilets outright they would cost about $175,000 apiece. Maintenance and Operations costs would be on top of that amount. In quickly doing the numbers, it appears that a $3 million dollar 20 year bond would pay for 15 public toilets. The annual debt service payment would be about $200,000 a year.

Fifteen years ago the Downtown Human Services Council found “the lack of public restrooms to be the number one problem” for downtown residents and transients.

Twelve years ago, business people named it among the top downtown social problems.

Six years ago Mayor Norm Rice had four portable potties set up downtown until permanent ones could be installed. He also committed money and staffing to fast-forward plans for installing self-cleaning public toilets.

Today we still have the same portable potties and no self-cleaning public toilets.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer probably summed it up the best in March of this year in its editorial: “If the City Council Members can’t figure out a way to deliver a service as basic as public toilets, they should explain why the Romans managed to provide them for their citizens 2,000 years ago.”

They were right. We have spent years in process searching for solutions. We need to get out of this cycle and just spend the money now to finally provide public toilets.

CORRECTIONS

Up #71 – Opening Up Shoreline Street Ends I supported the Parks Department’s proposal for a 10% annual increase in permit fees rather than the Executive Services Department’s recommendation of 8% (rather than 85% as was written).

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