Letter to editor: Explaining the mayor's mid-year budget trims

The city's budget director provides details and corrections to an earlier Crosscut report.

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The city's budget director provides details and corrections to an earlier Crosscut report.

I am writing to follow-up on your article on the entitled, "At City Hall:  pressure's off for deeper cuts" and to thank you for having already made updates to your article. I appreciate the opportunity to lay out these budget details for your readers.

You wrote that the mayor’s mid-year reduction package was “a gentle trim instead of the 3-8 percent cuts the mayor asked departments to come up with; the biggest cut, at parks, was 2.4 percent."  This is incorrectly combining the two City budget years. The 3-8 percent reductions are being sought for 2012, not 2011.  The reductions we announced on Monday were for 2011.  For 2011, we were seeking reductions totaling as much as 3 percent. 

The presentation I made to Council on Monday was a small sampling of some of the more visible departments in City government.  When looking at the complete list, you would see that a number of departments are taking reductions totaling 3 percent, including the Office of Economic Development, the Office of Housing, Seattle Public Utilities (the General Fund portion), the Department of Information Technology, and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services. 

It is also inaccurate to compare the staff reductions in this mid-year budget package with those the mayor made in his 2011 budget proposal. 40 positions (not the 38 position you originally cited in the article) are SDOT positions that are being eliminated not because of General Fund challenges, but because of separate challenges in the Transportation Fund's reimbursable, gas tax, and street use revenues.  A basic truth of budgeting is to never mix "colors of money." While General Fund dollars are fungible, revenues such as gas tax, reimbursables, and street use, are not (in many cases defined in state law).  In making the comparison (using inaccurate FTE numbers) of 63 positions to the $67 million General Fund shortfall, you are confusing colors of money in ways that would not be appropriate for public sector budgeting.  Similarly, the 300 positions you reference in the same section was Citywide, not just the General Fund. 

As for the $1.9 million in savings to the Parks budget that you reference, this savings is achieved through eliminating a vacant management position, savings resulting from the delayed opening of new parks facilities, and $1.6 million of previously unanticipated fund balance.  Your article intimates that maintenance is being deferred through these reductions.  But, that is simply not supported by the facts, as documented in my presentation to Council.

It is apparent that you have an interest in what is going on with the City's budget.  With this interest in mind and out of a desire that the City's budget situation be accurately portrayed to the public by the media, I am providing you a link to my presentation (both the power point and the video). 

Thank you for having an interest and taking the time to report on our City’s budget. It is a complex subject. I look forward to working with you in the future so that Seattle taxpayers can have a clear understanding of their tax dollars at work. The City remains committed to proactively addressing its on-going financial challenges.

Beth Goldberg

Director, City Budget Office


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