On Monday, November 21, the City Council unanimously adopted the 2012 Seattle Budget, including some significant additions to the human services budget, and some other changes to the Mayor’s proposal. However, as I suggested in my initial blog post on the budget, there were not a lot of major new initiatives, largely because 2012 is the second year of a 2-year budget cycle. State law provides that the City can only adopt budgets one year at a time, but Seattle does most of its budget work during the years when City officials are not on the ballot, formally adopting a budget for the next year and endorsing a budget for the one after that.
Because of the difficult economic circumstances, and the shortfalls in revenues as a result, Mayor McGinn did propose some significant changes from the endorsed budget. The Council accepted some of those, rejected others, and made some changes of our own, primarily to shore up human services. While times are tight for everyone, the cuts in federal and state programs to assist those in the greatest need will cause great difficulties. While the City does not have the resources to make up for these cuts, we tried to address some of the areas of highest concern, particularly in the areas of homelessness and health. The Council also allocated funds to support critical community activities, and reallocated transportation funds to be more neighborhood focused.
Here are the most important changes that the Council made:
- Allocated an additional $435,000 to support families faced with homelessness. This includes $150,000 to provide financial assistance to place families into rental housing, $150,000 to expand the program to provide shelter or transitional housing services, $75,000 to support facility improvements at religious organizations providing shelter and other services, $40,000 to provide emergency hotel/motel vouchers and case management services, and $20,000 to fund case management services for people who are sleeping in their cars.
- Added $250,000 for health care for the uninsured at Seattle’s public health clinics, and $478,000 to expand the evidence-based Nurse-Family Partnership Program that links professional nurses to first-time low-income mothers and pregnant women.
- To support our communities, established a separate office to address immigrant and refugee issues, funded a new Precinct Liaison Program within the City Attorney’s Office to address a variety of community and neighborhood problems, including nuisance properties, nightlife issues, graffiti abatement, alcohol impact areas, and crime hot spots, and funded significant improvements in the downtown 3rd Avenue corridor, including additional cleaning and capital improvements.
- Reprioritizing approximately $2 million in the transportation budget to fund a significant pedestrian safety project at 23rd Ave S and Rainier Blvd S, provide initial planning and design dollars for the Fauntleroy Green Boulevard project to support proposed land-use changes at this gateway to West Seattle, establish a funding reserve for the First Hill Streetcar to help ensure that project commitments are fulfilled (which could be deployed for additional streetcar planning if it is not required for that purpose), and added funds to update the Bicycle Master Plan to ensure that the City makes the best investments in bicycle infrastructure. The Council also affirmed the City commitment to completing the Mercer West project that will complete the solution to the “Mercer Mess”.
The Council maintained the City’s fiscally responsible budget policies, fully funding these changes through careful management of resources. The adopted budget is balanced based on a conservative revenue forecast, and includes a $1.9 million contribution to the Rainy Day Fund. The Council adopted a modification to the City’s retirement system that reduces future funding requirements, and increased the City contribution to the retirement system to ensure fund stability.
The Council also cut more than $250,000 in position adds proposed by the Mayor, reduced planned funding for possible 2012 ballot measures to assume that there will only be one measure on the ballot, and maintained separate Offices of Housing and Economic Development while achieving staff efficiencies that generate annual savings of over $400,000.
The adopted budget maintains Fire Department and Human Services budgets at their endorsed budget levels. It does, however, accept the Mayor’s proposal to leave vacant positions open in the Police Department. The Council made it clear, however, that we expected the Mayor and Police Chief to deliver on their commitment that they could maintain public safety and implement the Neighborhood Policing Program with the reduced budget. The Council also continues to be concerned about the Department of Transportation budget, making the changes noted above, but recognizing that the Department of Transportation still has financial problems. The Council restored cuts to the P-Patch program in the Department of Neighborhoods, and will do a more thorough review of this Department during 2012.
Thanks to careful fiscal management and good cooperation between the Mayor and Council, Seattle continues to be fiscally responsible and to be able to carry out high priority public services. There are many important activities that will be limited or curtailed, but we believe that the City can manage under the constraints that we currently have. Our biggest concern is that the Legislature will take away state funds that are committed to local government (creating a hole in our revenues), cut human services programs leaving cities to deal with the problems that result from that, or transfer some of the State’s responsibilities to cities without providing funding streams to support that. If we can dodge those bullets, we believe we can manage the City’s 2012 budget – and begin work on what still looks like a very challenging 2013-2014 budget.