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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.
The Council faced difficult budget decisions this year. Because of significantly reduced revenues, $40 million in reductions from our $900 million 2010 budget were necessary. However, the Council did limit the cuts where possible and was even able to add funding for a select number of programs. We also added $5.2 million to the Rainy Day Fund, bringing the new total to $10.5 million. My focus was on mitigating the impact of these difficult economic times and helping those most in need.
Key initiatives I proposed and authored:
- Restoring $860,000 in library funding that was removed in the Mayor’s budget. The net effect will be to keep 11 geographically dispersed branches open 7 days and 60 hours per week while offering 35 hour operating schedules 5 days a week at the remaining 15 branches. Access to library’s free internet and job search resources is particularly crucial during this recession, particularly for that third of our households who do not have a broadband internet connection at home.
- Securing $100,000 for services for homeless women; this is one of our most vulnerable communities. Even before the recession hit, our shelters were full and turning people away.
- Establishing the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities and providing staffing for it. Recent City decisions, like eliminating handicap parking spots at the Seattle Center, have shown the need for better involvement of the disabled community, which is larger than any single minority ethnic group in Seattle.
- Restoring funding for access to services for human services serving communities of color and sexual minorities, including Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse;
- Directing the Department of Planning and Development, Office of Economic Development and Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs to collaborate and deliver a plan to my committee by spring to implement the six recommendations of the Cultural Overlay District Advisory Committee made earlier this year. The recommendations seek to preserve and create more affordable spaces in Seattle for arts and culture activities.
- Restoring funding for historic preservation staffing that had been cut in the Mayor’s budget. We cannot replace historic buildings once they are torn down; their presence defines our urban experience and Seattle’s physical character.
- Other Council measures I signed on as a co-sponsor include continuing the path begun during my tenure as Public Safety Chair to add new police officers, combined with prevention programs:
- $1 million+ to restore funding for CURB, GOTS and Co-STAR programs, which are designed to link lower-level offenders with social services and rehabilitation support.
- Continue funding to add 20 new police officers in 2010.
Other items I co-sponsored include:
- Restoring funding for community-based support systems for food banks and meal programs;
- Funding for a two-year pilot program for shelter and recovery services for prostituted children;
- Funding for capacity building and technical assistance for non-profit human services agencies;
- Increasing apprenticeship opportunities for job-skills at Seattle Public Utilities;
- Funding for the Department of Information Technology to start the Open Data Initiative, a project that will transform the City’s public data into a format the public can use by creating online tools that can integrate data, create content, and publish reports.
Other actions taken by the Council in the budget include:
- Funding to accelerate two neighborhood fire station projects;
- Increasing funding for Linden Avenue North Complete Streets project and accelerating completion to 2012;
- Adding funding to Rainy Day Fund for long-term budget stability;
- Restoring energy conservation programs;
- Guaranteeing to the struggling Wallingford Senior Center they’d have the opportunity to raise additional operating funds by maintaining the City’s $96,000 financial commitment. Each year, the City of Seattle provides $450,000 in funding to operate senior centers across the city.
The Council voted against increases in fees proposed for adult use of athletic fields and for the Amy Yee Tennis Center. More than a year ago, the Council asked Parks to provide data on the cost of field and venue use that charge fees, and for policies on cost recovery via fees. The Council has yet to receive this information, and I joined my colleagues in rejecting the proposed increases. The Council has requested that Parks submit a fee policy proposal to the Council no later than March 31, and stated its intent to evaluate Parks’ proposal based on equity and fairness, cost recovery, affordability, and transparency.
Although the so-called head tax – a funding source for pedestrian and bike safety projects – was repealed in the budget, I led the Council in a new direction to look at dedicating existing infraction revenue for pedestrian safety purposes consistent with the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan. Right now, those revenues go into the general fund. The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances recommends that all automated traffic law enforcement dedicate their revenue to traffic safety efforts. I requested that the Executive Branch explore the dedication of revenue from the existing speed camera used in school zones. I will also encourage the Council to determine how much revenue is collected from the red light camera program (established in 2006) for possible future efforts to dedicate more revenue to pedestrian master plan and possibly bike master plan funding efforts.
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