McGinn budget: Hard times mean less service, paying more at every turn

Mayor Mike McGinn says that, despite other cuts, his plan will preserve firefighter positions and even provide for some extra police officers.

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Mayor Mike McGinn

Mayor Mike McGinn says that, despite other cuts, his plan will preserve firefighter positions and even provide for some extra police officers.

Perhaps to emphasize the positive, Mayor Mike McGinn chose the Rainier Beach Community Center as the venue to announce his plan to cover the city of Seattle’s expected $67 million budget deficit in 2011.

While presenting his first ever biennial budget Monday (Sept. 27), he made a point of confirming plans to renovate the community center at a cost of $20 million — funds were approved last year — a project that will require a two-year closure of the center and is expected to be complete in 2013.

Meanwhile, other community centers will see their hours of operation reduced to save money. Seven of the city’s 20 neighborhood service centers will be closed, if the City Council adopts the mayor's budget proposals. The library system will reduce its budget by 8.5 percent through management changes, preserving its current hours of operation.

“Faced with the daunting challenge of closing a $67 million shortfall in the general fund and addressing the financial realities in other city funds, I had to make difficult but necessary decisions,” McGinn said. “My goal was to develop a sustainable budget that doesn’t rely on general tax increases and preserves services as much as possible. I met that goal but it is not without consequences.”

Central to the mayor’s plan is the elimination of 294 city jobs, or 2.67 percent of the city’s work force. Of those 294 positions, 80 are already vacant. Sixty-four of those positions are considered “senior level.” The city will also eliminate or reduce most cost-of-living raises.

To increase revenue, utility rates will be raised, McGinn proposed. Fees for many city services will also be increased, as will parking rates.

The most striking change: Sunday parking would no longer be free.

McGinn’s budget for the city’s 2011 general fund is $888 million, $13.7 million less than the 2010 budget. Most of the general fund, or about 74 percent, pays for public safety, the arts, and recreation. The city’s overall budget is $3.9 billion; the vast majority (57 percent) of that goes toward utilities and transportation.

McGinn pointed out the city would not reduce the numbers of firefighters and actually increase its number of police officers.

The department hit hardest by the layoffs will be Parks and Recreation, which will shed 105 jobs; finance and administration will lose 33 jobs, Seattle Public Utilities 32 jobs (14 of them senior), the Department of Transportation 30 jobs (15 of them senior), and the Seattle Center 18.

After presenting his budget at the Rainier Community Center, McGinn delivered his proposal a few hours later to the City Council in Council chambers. The council will spend the next few months reviewing his plan, and the council must adopt a budget  no later than Dec. 2. By state law, the city is required to balance its budget.

Three public hearings will be held in the next month to gather input for the 2011 budget. The first will be held Wednesday at the Northgate Community Center Gym. The second will be held Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the Brockey Center at South Seattle Community College; and the third will convene Tuesday, Oct. 26, at Seattle City Hall. All hearings will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Among the reductions in recreation and community services that McGinn wants: Five community centers (Alki, Ballard, Laurelhurst, Queen Anne, and Green Lake) will have reduced operating hours; ten wading pools (South Park, East Queen Anne, Cal Anderson, Dahl, Delridge, Wallingford, Hiawatha, Bitter Lake, EC Hughes, and Sound View Parks) will be open three days a week; eight wading pools (Ravenna, Beacon Hill, Powell Barnett, Peppi’s Playground, View Ridge, Gilman, and Sandel Parks) will remain closed; seven Neighborhood Service Centers (West Seattle, Delridge, University District, Central District, Lake City, Southeast, and Ballard) will be closed.

Under the proposed budget, electricity rates will increase by 4.3 percent in 2011; solid waste rates will increase by 7.5 percent, water rates by 3.5 percent, and wastewater rates by 4 percent.

Virtually all recreation fees will go up, such as the cost of launching a boat at a public ramp, a visit to the Japanese Garden, or the cost of playing tennis indoors at the Amy Yee center. Other increases for city services might be noticed only by those who use them regularly. Cat owners will pay more to license their pets. People who return a book to the library past its due date will notice heftier fines. The fine for having police respond to a false alarm at your home will also go up.

The increase we will notice most is probably the one associated with parking on the streets, particularly downtown. The rate of $2.50 per hour will go up to $4 an hour. Rates in other parts of the city will increase by $.50 an hour. In addition to eliminating free parking on Sunday — the city has instituted paid parking from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays – parking hours have been extended by two hours the other six days of the week from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The mayor’s plan can be read online at:


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Hugo Kugiya

A former national correspondent for The Associated Press and Newsday, freelance writer Hugo Kugiya has written about the Northwest for the Puget Sound Business Journal, The Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times. His book, 58 Degrees North, about the sinking of the Arctic Rose fishing vessel, was a finalist for the 2006 Washington State Book Award. You can reach him at