Seattle budget: No new cops, wading pool cuts, maintenance cutbacks, SDOT trouble — UPDATE

After months of hand wringing over City of Seattle cutbacks to address a projected $50 million budget shortfall in 2011, the City Council’s budget committee is being briefed this morning on the first steps in the plan to overcome the impact of the global economic slowdown. Beth Goldberg, director of the City Budget Office and Ben Noble who heads Council’s Central Staff will present the first public unveiling of City Hall’s plan to cut back Seattle’s budget and begin some reductions this summer. You can watch the session live below.

Some of the largest cuts have been expected to slice the Parks Department budget with facilities like community centers and wading pools potentially on the chopping block. The Friends of the Volunteer Park Conservatory group has also sounded the alarm that Parks may target the historical greenhouse for cutbacks.

UPDATE: Here is the mid-year reduction document discussed during this morning’s briefing. The cutbacks mostly are dings to the various departments’ maintenance, equipment and staffing spending with only a few line items calling for facilities to be shut down or operated on a reduced schedule. The plan also calls for the elimination of “53.2” full-time city positions. Of those, only 13 positions are currently filled. The rest are positions that have not yet been hired for. The layoffs will be effective July 20.

The document also sheds light on the particular struggles the Seattle Department of Transportation is facing as it has depleted reserve budget earlier than expected. According to the document, SDOT blames “unbudgeted” expenses related to “the snowstorm” and cleaning up homeless camps has the department facing additional cuts beyond the impacts of the city’s general fund issues. SDOT now faces a $7.8 million shortfall in 2010. According to the document, a plan to stabilize SDOT’s spending will be announced in “next couple of weeks.”

According to the document, Mayor Mike McGinn is asking for a $12.4 million cutback in the near-$900 million the city will spend in 2010. Goldberg said the mayor requested a plan for all departments to cut budgets by 3% as part of the mid-year cuts. Fire, police and human services were asked to make cuts amounting to 1.5% reductions.

One of the most significant line items in the cutback plan is a decision to hold off on hiring 21 police officers from the department’s neighborhood policing plan for a savings of $2.1 million. As expected, Parks is another area for significant cuts with $1.67 million in reductions being planned. Most of the Parks cutbacks comes from cuts to maintenance and closures of some of the city’s wading pools. Cal Anderson’s pool service will be reduced to a three day schedule while Volunteer Park’s pool will not be affected. Also not affected is Miller Community Center’s fountain play area.

While the Volunteer Park Conservatory was not called out for specific cuts in the document, it is not immediately clear that the facility made it through unscathed. We’ll check on this once the dust settles to learn more.

The libraries will also see staff and maintenance cuts but no plan for further reductions in operating hours at this time.

The cuts will take effect in coming weeks but will make long-term impacts in the way the city spends. According to the document, 73% of the cuts are planned to continue into 2011.

In addition to identifying cuts that will create long-term savings, the plan was also designed to preserve the city’s “rainy day” fund which has fallen to $10 million, down from $30 million.

UPDATE x2: Here’s what the mayor had to say about the release of his plan to shave the city budget:

Mayor Mike McGinn’s comment on 2010 mid-year budget reductions

“Seattle is facing difficult choices relating to the financial health of our city. In difficult times, we look to the values of our community, and seek to safeguard those values even while we are scaling back to meet budget deficits.

Over the past five months, I’ve held dozens of community town halls and met with hundreds of citizens and community leaders. Today’s mid-year budget release reflects the shared values of the community as expressed in those conversations.

Budget Director Beth Goldberg drafted a budget that is fiscally responsible, protects public safety and human services, and prepares us to deal with reductions in revenue in 2010 and going into 2011.

The tragedy in Fremont this past weekend gave us a concrete example of the importance of protecting our public safety budget; in light of that event, I am not proposing any reductions to the Fire Department, giving us an opportunity to fully review the safety implications of any potential reductions.

 I am also pleased to announce that we’ve been able to keep our public swimming pools and community centers open through the end of 2010.

But, make no mistake. We continue to face difficult choices in the city budget, and the projected deficits for 2011 will require us to work even harder to provide the needed services.

We’ll continue to let our values as a community guide us in those decisions.”

The budget briefing was scheduled to start around 10:30 AM.


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