The city council voted 5-4 vote this morning to raise electric rates 13.8 percent over the next two years.
Four council members voted to support a lower, one-year rate increase of 7.9 percent—Bruce Harrell, Jan Drago, Richard McIver and Tom Rasmussen. Those four also opposed the higher, two-year increase. As we reported earlier this month, the lower increase would probably have hurt City Light's bond rating, which would in turn have impacted the interest rates at which the utility (and potentially the rest of the city) could borrow money. In a statement, Harrell expressed his disappointment at the vote, which was a strong rebuke of the energy committee chair's position on the rate increase issue.
This morning's vote was part of the council's annual budget revising process. The rest of the revised budget (technically: the "balancing package") has a little something for everyone.
• It restores proposed cuts to human services, including Communities United Rainier Beach (CURB), Get Off the Streets (GOTS), and Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services (CO-STARS), that provide services for people at risk for low-level street crime. However, it also includes an "evaluation" of the programs that some supporters worry might actually pave the way to eliminate CURB’s funding and distribute it among the other two programs.
• It includes two top priorities of council member Tim Burgess: A new safe house for prostituted young girls, and the Drug Market Initiative, which lets small-time dealers off the hook if they agree to stay off the streets and gives dealers access to social services.
• It restores money for women's shelters and day centers such as the downtown Seattle Angeline's Day Center and for "tenant improvements" at Mary's Place, the city's only day shelter for women and children. I have a call in to Mary's Place board member JJ McKay to find out if the money will be enough to keep Mary's Place—which earlier this year was threatened with closure—afloat.
• It adds nine new parking enforcement officers, and increases parking fines by $2 across the board.
• It eliminates two park rangers that Nickels had proposed adding next year.
• It adds about $5 million back to the city's rainy day fund, which Nickels' proposed budget would have more or less emptied.
• And it cuts nearly $900,000 from the mayor's office and from the Office of Policy and Management, which—as we reported last week—the city council has proposed abolishing completely. Nickels has already started transferring key employees out of OPM and into city departments; according to one report, the office looks like "a ghost town."
The council will spend the next week crunching the numbers and making sure they add up, and will pass the final budget on November 23.