On Monday, November 25, the Council adopted the 2014 Seattle budget. The budget includes a number of Council initiatives, in public safety, human services, and developing the new universal pre-school program. I was able to secure funding for a number of important projects, and was happy to join in the unanimous vote to approve the budget.
As the economic recovery has slowly progressed, Seattle’s budget has stabilized and is beginning to grow again. In 2013 we were able to restore some programs that had been cut and make a few additions. The 2014 budget provided additional resources, and allowed us to continue to progress and begin to unfold new initiatives. With the success of the Library Levy, we have restored essential services in most Departments with the notable exception of Parks, which is still operating at recession levels. While there are still some important program elements that have been deferred (such as tree pruning and maintenance in the Department of Transportation), the 2014 budget is responsible and thoughtful.
Even with voter approved levies, such as the Library Levy, existing property owners will see a net reduction of about $1.5 million in City property taxes in 2014. The budget does increase the property tax assessment for the general fund by the 1% allowed by state law. It also includes property taxes on new construction. Together these two steps result in a net increase of about 3% in general fund property tax revenues. However, there were no new levies submitted to the voters in 2013, and the Pike Place Market levy is assessed at a lower amount in 2014. The reduced Market levy cuts assessments on existing property by about 1.5%, more than balancing the 1% general increase. This decrease in the City component of the property tax bill may be hard to track for each individual property owner, of course, as those bills includes levies for other levels of government. The impact will also vary depending on possible differences in changes in assessed value determined by the County Assessor. Still, it is a noteworthy result.
I was able to get funding for a number of important projects as part of the Council budget actions. These include:
- Adding $183,000 to expand the reLeaf urban forest education and outreach program, the first stage of implementation of the new UrbanForest Stewardship Plan.
- Providing $250,000 in funding for the first stage of Neighborcare Health’s Meridian Center for Health, a north end center that complements their Rainier Beach project, which the Council also partnered on.
- Helping the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict project get off the ground with $45,000 in funding.
- Designating $80,000 for a project in the Chinatown/International District to work with property owners on strategies to retrofit unreinforced masonry buildings for earthquake safety.
- Allocating $212,000 to update the South Lake Union alternative transportation mitigation program.
- Adding $50,000 to the funding for the Vera Project, establishing the $100,000 contract amount for 2013 as the new level for future years.
- Increasing the number of immigrant domestic violence survivors served by adding an additional $15,000 in funding for a paralegal position.
- Restoring $31,000 to maintain a program to glean fruit for food banks and maintain fruit trees on Parks Department land, and adding $28,000 to support fruit gleaning for food banks on private land.
- Adding $130,000 to support working with the State and County to continue the restaurant permitting reform project.
I also joined with my colleagues to support a number of other budget provisions on issues like homelessness, funding for the Fresh Bucks program, and support for the pre-school initiative.
Finally, I sponsored several Statements of Legislative Intent, policy actions that the Council adopts to provide guidance for City Departments. Among these are one asking DPD to review streamlining permitting and making it more efficient, a recommendation to the Parks Department to more adequately fund staffing at the Belltown community center, direction to DPD to deploy its Green Building Team to assist Seattle Schools in its construction programs, and a request that the City work with regional partners to explore potential funding sources to ensure that community mental health providers can deploy electronic health records so that they can qualify for funding under the Affordable Care Act.
This year’s budget process was relative smooth. If the economy continues to improve, I expect that the City will have more financial flexibility in the future, and can move forward with other important priorities.