City Hall

McGinn Announces $951 Million Budget Proposal

By Erica C. Barnett September 24, 2012

In a speech that sounded more like a reelection campaign stump speech than a budget announcement ("If we work together, we can meet those challenges, we can build the city of the future, and we can keep doing it together"), Mayor Mike McGinn proposed a $4 billion city budget today that includes $951 million in general-fund (that is, non-fee-based) revenues---the largest budget since McGinn was elected in 2009, and a major improvement from budget projections in April, which showed a general-fund shortfall of $32 million. Overall, the budget includes 39 layoffs, which will be effective on January 2, 2013.

McGinn has been rolling out his budget proposal over the past week and a half, announcing $15 million in public-safety spending on September 14,  $5 million in funding for street maintenance on September 12, and $5 million to study high-capacity transit on September 13.

Here are some highlights from the full budget proposal McGinn announced today, split handily into thirds: New money, savings and cuts, and what McGinn wants to spend it on.

On the revenue side, the budget McGinn is proposing benefits from:

• Higher revenues from real-estate excise taxes (REET), which people pay when they buy commercial real estate;

• The $123 million library levy voters passed in August;

• Revenue from street vacations, including three alleys in South Lake Union that the city plans to hand over to Amazon in exchange for $5 million in investments in transit and other improvements in the area;

• Funding for community development block grants, which pay for housing, health, and human services, that has come in higher than anticipated;

• A new $4 fee for adults to visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory, which is currently free (with a "suggested donation" of $3);

• A new admissions tax at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, whose operations will shift from the Parks Department to the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs;

• Higher fees to use swimming pool — about 50 cents more for swimming lessons, and about 20 percent more to rent swimming pools;

• Higher parking fees at the Seattle Municipal Tower and SeaPark parking garages;

• Higher fees at the city's animal shelter and incentives for people who own some of the city's estimated 250,000 unlicensed pets to get pet licenses; and

• Eight more parking enforcement officers (plus one manager and one data specialist) at SPD, with the goal of increasing revenues from parking fines.

It also includes significant savings from layoffs and other cuts:

• Lower utility costs in city buildings (basically, the city plans to lower the heat in the winter and reduce the A/C in the summer);

• Selling off a parts warehouse that serves the city's car and truck feet and using an outside vendor instead;

• Cutting $10.5 million from Seattle Public Utilities due to "rate pressure" (i.e., not enough revenue from ratepayers);

• Cutting two senior management positions from the fire department, including one assistant fire chief and one battalion chief;

• Eliminating accounting and financial analyst positions at the city's department of transportation; and

• Lowering the annual cost-of-living pay increase for the city's firefighter unions.

And here's a look at what all those new revenues and savings would pay for:

• Replenishing the city's rainy-day fund, which the city tapped during the recession, to $30 million---the level the fund was at in 2008.


• Increased library spending thanks to the library levy voters passed in August, allowing the library system to hire 46 new employees (for simplicity's sake, when I refer to "employees," I'm really referring to "full-time equivalents," which could include part-time workers). The new library funding will also allow the libraries to reopen on Sundays and avoid an annual weeklong summer closure.

• Funding for a new data center, an upgrade to the city's software system, and improvements to the city's accounting and budget systems;

• $24 million over two years for public safety improvements, including 10 new officers, an automated gunfire location system, a new in-car video system, and money to implement the city's settlement with the US Department of Justice;

• Longer hours at 7 community centers;

• Half a million dollars to help out businesses in areas of the city with parking meters (where, as it happens, businesses have complained loudly about higher meter rates);

• Expansion of the city's youth-violence prevention program to serve 450 more kids (bringing the total number of kids served to 1,500); and

• Sixteen code-enforcement officers at the Department of Planning and Development, which has seen revenues from permits rise significantly for the first time in several years. Between 2010 and 2012, DPD cut 94 positions, or nearly a quarter of its total staff.

• More money for child-care subsidies for moderate-to-low-income families, with the goal of reducing the waiting list for child care help by around 25 percent;

• $5 million, as mentioned, for studying high-capacity transit;

• Funding to update the city's freight mobility master plan (freight mobility being a hot topic, of course, in discussions of the proposed new arena);

• Funding for a new program to help young adults with criminal backgrounds get the skills to enter (or reenter) the work force;

• $180,000 in new funding to support domestic-violence survivors; and

• Nearly 20 new employees at Seattle City Light;

The mayor's budget proposal now goes to the city council, which will approve its own, amended version of the budget by Thanksgiving.


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