It's raining in Seattle, but the libraries are still open.
Through many contributions and shrewd budgeting, the Seattle City Council has managed to keep the libraries open and give some relief to small businesses. Council budget Chairwoman Jean Godden discusses the balancing act and warns about more budget troubles in the future.
Special to The times
LAST week, the Seattle City Council took final votes on the 2010 budget. Despite these financially lean times, the new budget actually has a lot to offer, although it's too soon to stand up and cheer. Budget analysts worry that the city's 2011-12 budget will be an even more difficult balancing act.
But more about that later. The 2010 budget, as passed by the council, restores hours to the Seattle Public Library system that earlier had been targeted for reduction. In these tough times, libraries are an important resource for the newly jobless to apply for employment. They provide the computer access that many lack and they offer help in composing résumés and navigating job information Web sites.
The budget will also provide a measure of tax relief to small businesses that have been buffeted by the difficult times. The repeal of an unpopular head tax is only one of several business-friendly measures. Earlier, the council raised the Business and Occupation tax threshold from $80,000 to $100,000. The council also passed legislation exempting small live-music venues from the city's admissions tax.
Public safety, one of the council's top priorities, also has been kept strong. The council voted to add 21 police officers, an essential step in implementing community-policing plans. The council also added $1 million to continue energy-conservation efforts and another $1 million to programs that help keep offenders from reoffending.
The fact that Seattle is one of the few big cities that has been able to weather the storm is a credit, partly, to past fiscal restraint, to city employees' willingness to take unpaid furloughs and to a healthier-than-most local economy.
The sacrifice city employees are making — 10 days of unpaid leave — cannot be underestimated. Their personal sacrifices saved jobs. It meant that Seattle will not have to lay off large numbers of seasoned workers and drastically curtail services to the public.
Just look at how other big cities are coping. In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially talked about 4,000 layoffs. In Chicago, Mayor Daley threatened 1,500 layoffs if city labor unions did not offer huge concessions. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing described that city's fiscal situation as "a train to hell."
Seattle, while feeling the recessionary pain, hasn't reached those levels of financial despair. One saving grace is that Seattle, along with the rest of the state, was able to dodge a killer bullet on election day when voters rejected Initiative 1033, the latest budget-busting Tim Eyman initiative. Voters statewide recognized the lure of short-term gains wasn't worth the damage that would be done to education, health and city services.
But Eyman's latest hatchet job aside, there still remains a fiscal crisis, one that isn't going to go away in 2010 or 2011. In fact, forecasters expect 2011 figures to be an even worse year for Seattle. One reason for concern is that the budget-balancing act required spending the lion's share of the city's painfully accumulated $30 million Rainy Day Fund.
Concern over depletion of the fund prompted the council to ask for a review of city departments' discretionary funding: expenses such as travel, nonessential supplies and consulting fees. The idea was to take a percentage of discretionary funding in order to beef up the city's Rainy Day Fund. The result is an additional $5 million, leaving a total of $10 million. With predictions that 2011 may not be much better, that $10 million cushion — while thin — will help Seattle begin to weather next year's budgetary storms.
It goes without saying that thanks go to many who helped with the city's budget-balancing act. Council members heard from many hundreds of individuals who came out to testify and let the City Council know of their concerns for keeping libraries open and human services strong. I continue to believe that we live in one of the most caring and humane communities in the nation.Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden is chairwoman of the council's budget committee.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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