Urban Politics #169: A Review Of The 2004 City Budget


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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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A Review Of The 2004 City Budget

Last week, the Seattle City Council passed the 2004 budget totaling $2.6 billion, of which $666,079,571 were in General Fund revenues and $666,078,194 in General Fund expenditures. The balance of the budget consists of funds outside the general fund. This mostly consists of funds within the “enterprise” departments of City Light and Seattle Public Utilities. Their revenues and expenditures are kept separate from the rest of the City’s budget since they are supported by their ratepayers and not the general taxpayers of Seattle.

As you may know, the City faced a $24 million dollar budget deficit this year, with an additional $6 million gap created by the State Supreme Court ruling that struck down the funding mechanism for street lights. However, on November 24th, the City Council presented a budget to the Mayor for approval that reflects this nearly $30 million in cuts. The Council had to make some tough choices to deliver a balanced budget package by December 1, 2003, as Washington Law dictates.

The 2004 Council Adopted Budget Included:

– Restored $814,000 for community health centers. The Mayor’s proposed budget contained a 15% cut for community health centers, a reduction that would have cut medical and dental service to hundreds of low-income residents. Such a reduction was not acceptable to the Council and we chose instead to restore that funding and provide an additional 4,000 patient visits.

– Allocated $430,000 for a East Precinct Public Safety Package. I initiated this package after meeting with business and community people who were particularly concerned about rampant open air drug use in the parks. The money will be set aside a fund for community members to decide how to address crime and other problems that have contributed to an overall decline in public safety in the area and to maintain a social worker at the Street Outreach Services program to work with the homeless youth population in the Broadway area.

– Restored $258,000 to maintain the current number of adult school crossing guards in the Seattle Police Department safety program. Under the Council budget plan, all 83 crossing guard positions in the Seattle Police Department safety program will be funded in 2004. We heard from Seattle residents that the safety of Seattle’s schoolchildren should be a paramount concern.

– Allocated $750,000 from the General Fund in 2003 to immediately relieve City Light of street light operation and maintenance (O&M) costs and provide $1.8 million in General Fund in 2004 to cover O&M costs of streetlights for the first quarter of 2004. The Council provided $4.2 million from the Emergency Subfund pending a longer-term plan for covering this expense to be developed in the first quarter of 2004. These measures were necessitated by a ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that ordered the City to fund its streetlights through General Fund expenditures rather than having City Light pay for streetlights.

– Department of Neighborhoods received $400K to restore funding to large projects in the Neighborhood Matching Fund, which can be applied to programs, including racial equality and social justice projects, initiated by the community. The Council also restored funding for the following:

$62,000 to complete Historic Properties surveys, $33,545 to staff the Pike Place Market Historical Commission and the Ballard Landmark District, $58,731 for the Community Garden Coordinator position in the City’s P-Patch Program, and $12,000 to the King County Dispute Resolution Center.

– The Council removed City funding for the proposed South Lake Union Streetcar project and limited expenditures to State and Federal grants only. These expenditures are restricted to $295,000 for developing information to enable the Council to make a threshold decision about the proposed South Lake Union Streetcar and possible extension of the Waterfront Streetcar.

– The Council also limited the 2004 appropriation for the Mercer Street Corridor Project to $163,000 until the Council reviews and approves a set of alternatives to be considered in an EIS. I was particularly concerned that the EIS not go forward until the Council signed off on an appropriate project. To date I do not believe the options being considered are cost-effective traffic mitigations.

Because emergency funds were used to make up the balance owing to fund the street light program throughout the coming year, the Council will have to collaborate with the mayor on a plan to rebalance the budget in early 2004.

Although the economy appears to be picking up and therefore the City should be receiving more tax revenues in 2004, we also have additional operating costs coming on line as our libraries and community centers reopen after being remodeled and expanded. These additional operating costs amount to millions of additional dollars and appear to outpace our current new revenue projections. Consequently, more cuts may be likely in City services as we look at the 2005 budget year.

Dealing with the budget next year will necessitate an on-going dialogue with our citizens in identifying our priorities. Although Committee Chairs will not be voted on until the beginning of January, it appears that Council Member Richard McIver, who served as the Vice Chair of the Finance and Budget Committee two years ago, will be chairing it next year.

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