2013 Budget Conversations

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Tonight, May 14, and next Monday evening, May 21, City Councilmembers will engage residents in comunity conversations on the 2013 budget. Tonight’s meeting will run from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Seattle Central Community College, 1701 Broadway, Broadway Edison Building, in Room BE1110. My staff and I will be there.

The conversation will center on five questions:

  1. How well do the City’s spending areas align with your priorities?
  2. If you had to decide which City services to protect from a $1 million budget cut, what factors would you consider in making your decision?
  3. Which City programs or services do you think are most appropriate for direct user fees and which are least appropriate?
  4. For which City services, if any, would you be most willing to pay additional property taxes?
  5. What does it mean to you to feel “heard” by your local government?

Next Monday’s meeting on May 21 will run from 6pm to 7:30 p.m. in the New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave South.

These conversations offer the public a chance to learn the basics of our city’s budget and the challenging funding decisions that accompany it.

Rather than formal public hearings where community members advocate for specific programs, these budget conversations are informal. Attendees need not come prepared with detailed knowledge of the budget or City operations. The Council will hold its formal public hearings on the 2013 City budget and Capital Budget this fall, after the Mayor has delivered his budget to the Council.

I wrote about the City’s budget in this earlier post, reporting that 2011 ended with a projected $17 million balance – $12 million more than previously expected. $5 million of this is from revenue and $7 million is from under spending. Under City policies, half of the balance will go toward replenishing the Rainy Day Fund. The remaining $6 million will serve as a cushion for this year. There will be no mid-year reduction in the budget, a welcome relief from most recent years.

Question number 2, above, is relevant to many City departments and services. One that comes to mind due to the $1 million figure is the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, which falls under the Council committee I chair. That office represents less than half of one percent of the City’s operational budget. A few years ago, the Council created a funding mechanism intended to remove it from the general fund balance by directing 75% of admissions tax revenue to fund the office. This revenue is generated mostly by cultural events, such as sports games, movies and music concerts. The arts office’s budget automatically increases or decreases in response to the amount of culture-related taxes generated, allowing it to fund Seattle non-profit artists and cultural organizations accordingly. Last year, the Mayor re-directed about $1 million away from the arts office to fund Parks Department arts programs and their Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. The Council expects that funding to be returned to the arts office next year.

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