It's been a long haul and a difficult struggle, but the Seattle City Council is finally taking those critical final votes on the city’s 2011-12 budget.
These votes, along with votes on statements of legislative intent taken on Wednesday of this week, will become the basis for the city’s final budget package likely to be adopted by council members on Nov. 22.
Since the council received the mayor’s proposed budget at the end of September, the council has been analyzing, considering ,and concentrating on how to best spend taxpayer dollars.
It takes a city to pass a budget and Seattle's dedication to public participation has resulted in hours of public comment. In addition, people have weighed in by phone, email, regular mail and in person on budgetary issues.
Without a doubt, this year, my third as chair of the council Budget Committee, has been the most difficult year. Each of the three years, we have reduced city services and employment and we will do so again this year.
We have found it necessary to accept some deep cuts proposed by the mayor in his budget. Nearly 300 positions will be lost. Some programs and services will be curtailed.
We know Seattle residents and businesses are hurting and we have continued to keep that foremost as we move forward.
However, to achieve this belt tightening, it was necessary to achieve numerous efficiencies — do more with less. The balancing package not only required a reduction of workers, it meant accepting furloughs from non-represented staffers and concessions from city unions. A reduced staff translates almost directly to a decrease in services offered. The parks department will offer fewer community center hours, grass in parks will be mowed less frequently and some branch libraries will have fewer librarians.
There also were some fee increases, increases in on-street parking fees and the commercial parking tax fees and taxes that a city can collect. The city must rely on a limited number of income sources and cannot spend money that it doesn’t have.
That said, the good news — even in this dismal year — is that the council's highest priorities, public safety and human services, have largely been saved from deep of cuts.
The council voted for budget choices — revisions to the mayor's budget — that reinvest in our community: restoring funding for human service programs, assistance for domestic violence victims, community center hours, and branch library maintenance just to name a few.
The council also is providing nearly $200,000 in additional funds for an emergency winter shelter at City Hall. It will keep dozens of needy citizens safe and secure during inclement weather. These funds will also help address increasing costs by shelter service providers.
Yet for each addition, there had to be a revenue source or reduction in some other service. That, in these lean times, wasn't easy. We owe thanks to city workers, both represented and unrepresented, who made sacrifices, forgoing wage increases in 2011-12. And we also owe a thank you to Councilmember Nick Licata and to the Museum of History and Industry for their willingness to craft a plan to lend the city much needed dollars, making our reinvestment in community possible.
The 2011-12 proposed Seattle budget, hammered out after many hours of discussion and negotiation, is now essentially ready for passage.
This year’s budget definitely isn’t pretty, but it is humane. It is in keeping with Seattle values and it does keep city resources intact and ready to meet the next challenge.
(Writer's note: An earlier version of my article on Seattle's 2011-12 budget erred in stating that Seattle Public Library hours will be reduced. Although there will be reductions in librarians in 2011-12, hours will stay the same as in 2010. In addition, the City Council approved $220,000 in 2011 and $220,000 in 2012 for the library's capital budget.)