Council approves final McGinn-era budget

After making changes that add money to public safety programs, transportation projects and homeless services, the Seattle City Council gets ready to send the budget back to the mayor.
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Tim Burgess

After making changes that add money to public safety programs, transportation projects and homeless services, the Seattle City Council gets ready to send the budget back to the mayor.

After spending two months making tweaks that will add more funding to public safety programs, transportation projects, homeless services and a handful of other initiatives, the City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve the 2014 Seattle Budget.

It was the last budget presented by outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn, which in one way marked the end of an era. While the council called it a conservative spending document, the budget also represents another step away from the Great Recession and the tight finances that McGinn has dealt with. The general fund is growing to about $1 billion next year, from around $975 million in 2013.

The council approved McGinn’s proposed $4.4 billion budget mostly intact, making about $13.7 million in changes.  Shortly after Monday’s vote, Budget Committee Chair Tim Burgess expressed optimism about the city’s finances.

“Our revenues ticked up significantly,” Burgess said, adding that the post-recession low point for the city’s general fund came in 2011. “Thirteen was good, fourteen is projected to be better, and we hope to keep going in that direction.”

The council chopped and trimmed several of McGinn’s proposals. On several occasions they said there were not clear enough program metrics and objectives to justify the costs. “For new or greatly expanded programs,” Burgess said, “we’d have to see evidence of effectiveness.”

McGinn could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.

Among this year's changes are public safety additions of about $1 million for a police team that will investigate use of force incidents and a combined $1.1 million for two initiatives intended to curb downtown street crime. One is the Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) program. The other is the “Multi-disciplinary Team.”

McGinn had requested $1.5 million for LEAD. Currently funded with private grants, the Public Defender’s Racial Disparity Project oversees the program, which works to steer small-time drug and prostitution offenders in Belltown away from jail and toward social services. The mayor said he wanted to expand LEAD to serve other parts of the city and to also focus on a wider range of crimes. In the end, the council allocated $830,000 so that the program could operate in other downtown neighborhoods, while retaining it’s focus on drug dealing and prostitution.

The Multi-disciplinary Team is a combined effort by the Mayor's Office, the Seattle Police Department, the City Attorney's Office, the Human Services Department, the Downtown Seattle Metropolitan Improvement District and park rangers to combat low-level street crime. 

The council's transportation adds included $1.3 million for planning bicycle and pedestrian safety upgrades along Fauntleroy Boulevard in West Seattle. Another $1 million will go toward designing separated bike lanes — known as “cycle tracks” — in downtown, along Second and Fourth avenues.

In total, the council increased funding for homeless services by $880,000. The amount includes $130,000 to help keep the doors of a downtown youth homeless shelter at the Orion Center open seven nights a week in 2014.

Other budget additions included $835,000 for new staff positions and wage increases at the City Attorney’s Office, $750,000 for public gathering space improvements at Seattle Center and $656,000 for early childhood learning, most of which will pay for designing new pre-school standards.

The $750,000 in public gathering space funding was swapped into the budget by eliminating an equal amount of money that the mayor had proposed spending on a multimedia learning facility at Seattle Center.

Among the other reductions made to the mayor’s proposed budget was $1.1 million in pedestrian master plan funding that won’t be needed until 2015, $500,000 for Seattle Police Department overtime, which would have been necessary for use of force investigations before the designated team was funded, and $400,000 to expand a program called Career Bridge.

Career Bridge is run by the Human Services Department and designed to help English-language learners secure jobs. Burgess said the earmark for the program was postponed because there was not enough evidence that it worked. “We told the proponents of it that we’d be happy to work with them in 2014,” he said, “to develop a program that would pass muster.”

Burgess also had kind words for the outgoing mayor as he nears the final month of his term. “He’s presented fairly conservative budgets,” he said, “that have kept our bond ratings strong.” Referring to the council he added, “We reinforced that fiscally conservative approach.”


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