Reducing General Fund debt: it adds up

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MM900282991“Debt Management Policies” is one of those dry budget terms that often generates a yawn. Say it at a party and see how far it gets you.

Perhaps it’s better just to say that how the city manages debt made a $29 million difference in 2014.

That’s what the city had available for services due to reducing its reliance on general obligation debt over the last nine years. In a billion dollar general fund, it might seem small, but it adds up.

From 2005 to 2014, Seattle reduced the percentage of its general fund dedicated to servicing debt from 7.7% to 4.8%. At the 2005 rate, it would have cost $29 million more in 2014 to pay off debt.

The Council memorialized this fiscal prudence in Resolution 31553, passed along with the 2015 city budget. Policy 5 states that net debt service on General Obligation debt will not exceed 7%, except in emergencies.

This replaces the previous policy, from 2001, which set a 9% limit, with a long-term goal of 7%.

This responsible management of the General Fund frees up resources for other city programs and citizen priorities; it’s equivalent to just over 60% of the General Fund support for the library system in 2014, for example.