City Hall

City, County Adopt Gloomy Budgets

By Erica C. Barnett November 12, 2010

As we mentioned in Fizz this morning, the city council and county council voted today to approve next year's budgets. At the city, the council trimmed some of Mayor Mike McGinn's more grandiose proposals, including a measure that would have increased the commercial parking tax to 17.5 percent.

At the county, the council mostly trimmed around the edges of County Executive Dow Constantine's proposal, which assumed the failure of King County Proposition 1 (the sales-tax increase for public safety) and preserved funding for employees whose unions agreed to take no cost-of-living increase next year, leaving the sheriff's deputies, who did not agree to forgo their 5 percent COLAs, bearing the brunt of the cuts.

At this morning's city council meeting, the longest discussion was about the city's new "parking scofflaw" program, which will allow the city to place immobilizing "boots" on cars owned by people with four or more unpaid parking tickets. The council plans to contract with a company (apparently, there's only one) whose boots can be removed by a driver as soon as the driver pays. There are about 25,000 people in the city who have failed to pay four or more parking tickets. Council member Nick Licata expressed interest in only booting drivers with five or six unpaid tickets. This morning, he said he asked McGinn how many people that would impact, but that McGinn never provided any information. "It took the executive several days to provide a response that could have been produced in an hour, with no numbers," Licata said.

In other parking-related changes, the council increased the maximum parking meter rate from $2.50 to $4 and directed the city's transportation department to study parking availability in every city neighborhood. They also rejected the idea of charging for parking on Sundays, with only Sally Bagshaw voting in favor.

Some other highlights:

At the city:

• City Light rates will increase 3.2 percent in 2011 and 2012, rather than the 4.2 percent Mayor Mike McGinn proposed. The council's budget makes up the difference by eliminating 14 vacant positions, reducing funding to clear weeds in city-owned right-of-way, and reducing the assumed rate of inflation, among other things.

• The city attorney will take over the job of defending the police department against some misconduct claims, a job that's currently done by the private firm Stafford Frey at a cost of about $275 an hour. The police union has opposed the new arrangement, which the city attorney's office estimates will save the city up to $1 million a year.

• Funding for two victim advocates---one for victims of robbery, the other for victims of crimes investigated by the homicide unit, will be restored.

• The city will add two new positions in parking enforcement, a move they anticipate will increase parking fine revenues by about $1 million a year.

• A program that provides intervention services for very low-income domestic violence offenders, which the mayor had proposed cutting, will be restored.

• The council also restored funding for an asthma-prevention program that helps landlords, tenants, and homeowners improve indoor air quality.

• Funding to promote the Race and Social Justice Initiative will be restored.

• As we've reported, the council's budget preserves hours for and space at community centers, restores the city's historic preservation officer, preserves some neighborhood district coordinators, and keeps one neighborhood service center in West Seattle, which the mayor had proposed closing, open.

At the county:

• The council's budget eliminates more than 300 positions. Of those that are currently filled, 28 are in the sheriff's department, 28 are in King County District and Superior Courts, and 16 are at the prosecutor's office. The budget also includes no funding to replace the Alder Juvenile Detention Facility.

• Funding for programs that serve at-risk mothers, early learning, and after-school programs was cut to zero.

• The council preserved funding for Step Up, a program that helps families impacted by juvenile domestic violence.

• Despite Sheriff Sue Rahr's warnings that the budget cuts would force her office to stop investigating property crimes, the budget directs Rahr to preserve two deputies for that purpose.
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