City Hall

Council Grills Budget Director on McGinn's Budget Proposal

By Erica C. Barnett September 29, 2011

The city council got its first shot at Mayor Mike McGinn's proposed budget yesterday morning, and they took full advantage of the opportunity, grilling budget director Beth Goldberg on everything from the mayor's proposed new parking rates to his plan for housing in Lake City to his proposal to spend $1.5 million planning for rail on the west side of Seattle.

Among their questions, and Goldberg's answers:

• Has the mayor, in effect, spent the $20 million in anticipated revenues from the city-owned "Rubble Yard" property through 2013, or might that money be available for some other purpose in the future? (McGinn wants to spend $6.7 million of the Rubble Yard money in on ice sensors, transit planning, street cleaning, and other transportation purposes in 2012).

The short answer: Yes. Goldberg said McGinn's budget assumes all the Rubble Yard money will be spent by 2013, including $2 million in both 2012 and 2013 to help backfill the Seattle Department of Transportation's ongoing revenue shortfall.

• What's going on with parking revenues, which are one of the only "deficit drivers" over which the city has control?

Goldberg said that thanks to lower parking rates in much of the city, parking revenues are projected to fall $7.5 million short next year, a shortfall that could be mitigated by higher rates. (In areas where rates went up, revenues actually climbed as people continued to park there).

"We could decide not to take that [revenue] hit, but would require moving away from the current policy," which is aimed at achieving one to two open spaces per block, Goldberg said.

• What's the logic behind subsuming the Office of Housing into the Office of Economic Development, a much smaller agency? And, as council member Nick Licata put it, "Did you look at other ways of combining functions that still preserved the independence of the departments?"

Goldberg said that although McGinn and the budget office did look at other alternatives, they all involved reducing direct services, which was "a step the mayor was not comfortable taking." Noting that the director of housing, though no longer a department director, would still be a "cabinet-level position," Goldberg continued, "OED's job description is broader even though OH is a much larger" organization in terms of money and employees.

• The mayor has justified his police budget plan, under which SPD would continue a police hiring freeze and only hire for positions that go vacant through attrition next year, by saying the department has met or exceeded all the goals of the 2008 neighborhood policing plan. But is that true among all precincts and neighborhoods, among all levels of 911 calls (not just Priority 1 calls), and at all times of day?

Goldberg didn't have an answer, but said SPD would bring detailed information when it briefs the public safety committee on its budget next month.

• Given that McGinn has abandoned plans to site a long-term homeless shelter at Fire Station 39 in Lake City (his budget spends the Sunny Jim's insurance settlement money fixing roofs on city-owned buildings instead), is there a plan to house the homeless who previously lived at the station in the short term? And how do we know that the $950,000 left over after the city fixes its roofs in 2012 will be spent to benefit the homeless the following year?

Goldberg's response, in short: Not yet; and trust us.

"A budget is an articulation of priorities... including [replacing the shelter at] fire station 39," Goldberg said. As for the long-term solution, "There's an agreement that the plan that we put forward needs to be something that addresses this on a more long-term basis. What we don't have right now is that path to get there."
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