Afternoon Jolt

By Afternoon Jolt September 7, 2010

Today's loser: Citizens who use Seattle's parks, community centers, and libraries.

As we reported this morning, the city is now facing a 2011 budget shortfall of around $67 million, and projections show a shortfall as high as $73.6 million the year after that. That means that Mayor Mike McGinn will have to come up with additional cuts, beyond the $56 million he was already facing.

And it isn't as simple as cutting city departments across the board.

The city council has made clear, in its annual budget priorities, that it plans to minimize cuts to public safety and human services, which will probably "only" be cut about three percent. (So much for hiring those 21 additional police officers.) That means things like parks, community centers, and libraries are going to see cuts of 15 percent, or even more if the recession turns into a "double dip recession," one in which a recession is followed by a brief recovery, then another bigger recession. Economists at the Global Insight firm peg that possibility at 25 percent.

What would a 15 percent cut look like (besides layoffs, which the mayor says are inevitable)? At parks, it could mean things like deferred maintenance (less mowing and watering of lawns, less frequent emptying of trash cans) and more closed pools in the summer. Community centers that now serve one neighborhood might have to serve two as the city shuts some centers down. And library hours may be constrained even more. (Currently, the library shuts down completely for one week during the summer to save costs).

Of course, McGinn has also said he plans to propose new revenues, which would forestall some cuts. (The mayor opposes dipping into the city's emergency rainy day fund, which now holds around $5 million). Those could be as simple as higher fees to use things like pools (or new fees for services, like the use of community-center basketball courts, that are now free), but it could also mean revenue generators the city has historically resisted---things like selling naming rights for parks, or selling advertising on kiosks throughout the city. McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus says the mayor isn't ready to publicly propose any new revenue streams, but that "the mayor has made it clear he is open to public/private partnerships."

Parks committee chair Sally Bagshaw says she "would be open to" additional fees for services and, potentially, public/private partnerships, as long as the evidence of such partnerships was "discreet," like the new Bank of America Commons at the Woodland Park Zoo. "We really have to look at every option we can, whether it's sponsorships or use fees" or expanding food concessions in parks, Bagshaw says.
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