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Budget thoughts.

How best to turn Seattle’s always-limited resources into efficient services over the next two years?  That’s the question my Council colleagues and I deal with this fall as we examine the 2013-2014 proposed City budget.   The process started for City Council last Monday. In a rare Seattle moment of required protocol, Councilmember Harrell and I escorted Mayor Mike McGinn across the blue bridge to the Council Chambers last week so he could deliver the draft budget he, his staff and executive departments prepared over the summer.

 While I was busy escorting and listening, staff was busy refreshing this page:

 http://www.seattle.gov/council/budget/ 

 Now we start the several week long process of budget analysis. It’s the City Council’s job to thoroughly go through the proposed budget and determine how the City should spend our money best. This determination process will involve presentations from City Departments, community input, two rounds of discussions, and final decisions and voting. We start with general overviews of select departments and work our way more and more into questions about policy and priorities the further we go.  It’s a two month process that starts this week and should end just before Thanksgiving.

 For Mayor McGinn this is his third city budget proposal and the first in which he’s had any wiggle room to make “investments” – putting money into new efforts like transit corridor planning, bike route planning and hiring new police officers.  For the first time in several years, social service groups who contract with the city to provide shelter, food, counseling and other services will see an inflation adjustment in their contracts. We’ll add back some of the hours cut at high-use community centers. We might even hire some new police officers moving ourselves back toward the hiring commitment we made before the recession.

 These proposed additions are possible not because we have new, excess revenue. They’re possible because the gap isn’t as bad as feared last spring – the $32 million gap predicted earlier this year shrank. Sales tax receipts and taxes on real estate transactions are rebounding, but we still need to trim to balance the budget. The proposed budget still contains staff layoffs.

 I’ll be asking if we’re trimming in the right places, adding back in the right places, spending on new ideas in the right places.

 A resolution we passed earlier this summer about performance outcomes for new initiatives will help with our assessment of the budget. We’ll focus on funding projects that can show positive outcomes for City residents by asking the following questions of each new item:

  • What is the long term and measurable goal or goals of the program?
  • What is the gap between the status quo and the program goals?
  • How effective is the new program expected to be in making progress toward the stated goals?
  • How will the success of the new or changed program be measured?

 Keep an eye on the City’s budget page: http://seattle.gov/council/budget/ for additional perspective from the Council on the budget.

 And here’s where you come in.  I need your help to do my job better.   I depend on your feedback and input to make decisions about the budget. There are a couple of different ways you can get involved:

What are your priorities?  How are services in your neighborhood?  What would you like to see changed?  Taking this survey (it should take 10 minutes) will give us some great information.

Let us know about your budget priorities.  Is there a key service that is effective in your community?  Something you’d like to see different? My staff and I review every e-mail and phone call I receive.

  • Attend one of two budget hearings at Seattle City Hall and give your statement to the entire Seattle City Council. 

Hearings are in Council Chambers Thursday, October 4 and October 25, both at 5:30 p.m.  Typically, a couple of hundred people attend, so it’s best to arrive earlier than 5:30 p.m. to sign up to deliver a 2 minute statement to Seattle City Council.  This is a crucial part of the budget process and gives us lots of information about the breadth of issues the City needs to be concerned about.

 I look forward to hearing from you over the next few weeks.

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