Monday afternoon, the first-term mayor and longtime Olympia politician pointed his city forward with a new budget plan for how Seattle should spend its newfound wealth powered by a nearly unprecedented construction boom while doing more to address inequity and strengthening its reserves for the inevitable slowdown:
Seattle has received an outsized share of the region’s growth during the recovery. At the same time that the Puget Sound region’s recovery has been stronger than the nation’s, Seattle’s recovery has outpaced the recovery of the rest of the region. This can be seen by looking at taxable retail sales data (the tax base for the retail sales tax), one of the few relatively current measures of economic activity available at both the county and city levels. Over the four year period 2010-14, taxable retail sales increased by 35% in Seattle, compared to gains of 23% in the rest of the metro area and 22% in the rest of the state; i.e., outside of the Seattle metro area (see Figure 4). Most of Seattle’s relative strength is due to a 77% increase in construction activity. The rest of Seattle’s tax base has grown only modestly faster than that of the other areas.
Seattle’s dependence on the construction boom revenue is a concern — limits on property tax increases and other state taxing throttles mean the city needs to prepare for days when the boom slows. Murray said we’re missing out on $33 million in property taxes alone if the rate were allowed to track inflation instead of being capped at 1% by Olympia.
The entire 761-page, 15.1 MB budget document is embedded at the end of this post.
Included in Murray’s $5.1 billion proposal released Monday:
- $1.8 million to fund body cameras for every patrol officer and budget to hire 30 new police officers in 2016, keeping the city on pace for 100 additional officers by 2018
- The death of the DPD as the Department of Planning and Development is proposed to be split into a more efficient Department of Construction and Inspections, and a more people-friendly Office of Planning and Community Development and “a new Mobile City Service Center that will travel to neighborhoods throughout the city.”
- A “streamline” of services and “shift” of funding to homelessness programs “that provide the best outcomes” with an “emphasis on preventing the loss of housing.” The mayor also proposes Seattle provide $200,000 to fund “three permitted encampments on public lands.”
- Continued funding for the PSKS 24-hour homeless youth shelter
- $690,000 to complete design and research work for the proposed Broadway extension of the First Hill Streetcar
- $5 million to expand bike share in the city
- $256,000 for the The Office of Arts & Culture for “increasing granting initiatives, locating and funding new cultural spaces, and retaining crucial cultural anchors.”
The City Council’s budget committee will begin taking up the shaping of the mayor’s proposals Thursday. Public hearings are scheduled for October 6th and October 20th at City Hall. Council member Kshama Sawant has already weighed in:
— Vote Sawant (@VoteSawant) September 28, 2015
You can learn more about the proposals at openbudget.seattle.gov.
Much of Murray’s focus on Monday was a call to build on Seattle’s current strength to prepare for the future — and make the rapidly transforming city more livable for the citizens living here and those on their way. Decision like the proposed split at DPD is hoped to help address the city’s new needs.
“Too often residential growth is disconnected from planning for transportation, open space, economic development and the need for schools,” Murray is quoted as saying in the 2016 budget announcement. “To create vibrant neighborhoods that promote walkability, access to efficient public transit, parks and the cultural amenities that enrich urban life, we need a new integrated approach to planning how we grow.”
Here’s how the budget document describes the new Office of Planning and Community Development:
By providing a high-level office, where City planning can be centralized and coordinated, OPCD will provide the focus needed to address the rapid growth we are now experiencing and plan for the level of density – in both jobs and housing – we can reasonably anticipate for the future. OPCD will manage a coordinated vision for growth and development so the City can make informed decisions about equitable growth, consistent with Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, and align capital investments across the city.
The 2016 budget proposal also includes money to fund 36 new Seattle Department of Transportation inspectors to keep streets and sidewalks clear and usable during construction and paid for by developer fees.
Meanwhile, a massive effort to consolidate accounting systems across City Hall’s departments is also part of the proposed 2016 funding plan as is Murray’s proposal to “sets aside highest reserves ever.”
The proposal also reminds citizens why they might want to vote for the new transportation in November:
The biggest change in the 2016 Proposed Budget, relative to 2015, is the $43 million lost due to expiration of the Bridging the Gap Levy (BTG). The 2006 $365 million, voter-approved BTG levy currently supports a significant portion of the City’s transportation program. If this revenue source is not replaced, SDOT will be more dependent on the funding provided from the City’s General Fund. The proposed budget provides SDOT with $44 million in General Funds and $351 million from other funding sources in 2016. Collectively, this represents a $53 million (15 percent) increase relative to the 2016 Endorsed Budget.
Here’s a look at more highlights from the budget proposal:
- $1.8 million for body cams
- Improve the 911 Communications Center – $792,841/7.00 FTE
The proposed budget includes $200,000 to upgrade the 911 communications center at the West Precinct. These funds, in combination with King County E-911 revenues, will allow the communications center to replace outdated technology and equipment, and upgrade and reconfigure the consoles to accommodate more staff. The proposed budget will add 10 new work stations (a 33% increase in capacity), replace all workstations, reconfigure the workspace to allow for better supervision, increase 911 call taker operations and training capacity, and replace electrical, data and cabling to the work stations. In addition to the technology and workstation upgrades, the proposed budget adds annual funding for seven 911 call taker positions to the communications center, a 17% increase in funded 911 call takers. Four positions will be added in the 2015 3rd quarter supplemental ordinance and the proposed budget adds the remaining three positions. The additional 911 call takers will help address increasing call loads and response times for 911 calls. The department is required by the state to answer 90% of all 911 calls in 10 seconds or less 80% of the time, on an hourly basis. Since 2011, the department has used an average of 14,000 hours of overtime each year to meet call volume standards. This equates to approximately $600,000 spent each year on 911 call taker overtime. The proposed budget includes a one-time overtime appropriation ($89,000) to backfill for existing 911 call takers who will be taken away from regular duties in order to train new employees. King County’s E-911 program will provide funding for the positions in 2016 and 2017.
- Administration of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, an initiative to offer treatment as an alternative to jail for drug offenders, will be moved to the Human Services Department, a change we’re told is not significant for the program many are hoping to see extended to Capitol Hill. “Last year it was placed in finance general to facilitate a proviso conditioning this year’s funding on completion of the evaluation, which was done in February,” a rep for the Public Defender Association tells CHS. “This is just a technical relocation of the funding.”
- Advance Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Action Plan – $723,554/3.00 FTE
To support the implementation of the HALA recommendations, the 2016 Proposed Budget adds $200,000 in general fund, and $523,000 in other funds. This funding will support three new positions in the Office of Housing, and consultant work for feasibility studies. The funding will also partially support the development of the ground floor of an affordable housing development in Lake City for community purposes, such as a senior center, pre- school or community center.
- The budget items around LGBTQ safety and community issues are focused around supporting existing programs and bolstering communications efforts:
The Mayor’s proposed investments in public safety also extend to implementing recommendations from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Task Force he called together earlier this year in the wake of a series hate crimes perpetrated on Capitol Hill. The City will continue support of SPD’s “Safe Place” program, while at the same time making modest investments in Project EQTY. Furthermore, the Department of Neighborhoods will improve outreach to the LGBTQ community to encourage increase participation in the City’s Neighborhood Matching Fund process. The fund has the potential to support community building efforts and/or projects designed to enhance the visibility of the LGBTQ community and acknowledge its role in shaping Seattle, both of which were priorities identified by the Mayor’s Task Force.
For the first time, the City will provide direct financial support for encampments to be located on City- owned property. More than $200,000 will be used to lease property, support camp operations and provide case management and service referrals to encampment residents at up to three different locations. The City is currently working to open a new 100-bed homeless shelter in the Uptown neighborhood of Queen Anne, which was initiated in response to recommendations from the Mayor’s Emergency Task Force on Unsheltered Homelessness; ongoing funding is included in this budget. In addition, the Human Services Department (HSD) will support a new 24-hour shelter in 2016. This innovative strategy will provide a place of respite and support whenever it is needed, not just overnight. Funding is also provided for the continued operation and expansion of a homeless youth shelter that operates on Capitol Hill. In part to help coordinate all these efforts, HSD will also add a full-time staff person dedicated to homelessness issues. In total, the 2016 Proposed Budget includes more than $1.5 million of additional resources for services targeting Seattle’s homeless population
- First Hill Streetcar line items include a $1.2 million “technical adjustment” as the unspent operations money for the line is moved “to reflect the delayed opening for the First Hill Streetcar until the 4th Quarter of 2015.”
- The $690k for the Broadway streetcar extension will pay to finish the design of the proposed project to a Roy terminus and help study creation of a local tax district to pay for construction.
- $5 million is budgeted for a major expansion of the Pronto bike share system after the original plan to expand into the Central District in 2015 was delayed. The money is positioned as “a match for a potential future $10 million Federal Transit Authority (FTA) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant for the bike share program.”
- $426,000 for the “design and construction of four more pavement-to-parks projects throughout Seattle.” You can check out the first parks in the program on First Hill.
- $3,997,000 to replace the city’s parking pay stations
- $675,000 for the Pike/Pine Renaissance Project will also help fund “coordination with the Convention Center expansion,” the budget document notes.
- $256,000 for the The Office of Arts & Culture for cultural space preservation
- $200,302/.50 FTE for Youth Arts and Work Readiness Programs
- $215,922/2.00 FTE for “Special Events Permitting Process Reform” designed to better manage a new fee system for large events like the Capitol Hill Block Party and smaller community events like the Capitol Hill Pride Festival.
- $500,000 to help fund the restoration of Town Hall —
Town Hall is Seattle’s community cultural center, offering a broad program of over 450 music, humanities, civic discourse, and world culture events annually. Located in a century-old historic building at Seneca and 8th Avenue, Town Hall provides unique and flexible spaces for cultural and civic organizations to host concerts, lectures, meetings, and fundraising events. In 2016, Town Hall will undertake significant upgrades for continued building restoration including seismic stabilization, historic copper dome restoration, upgrade of restrooms, elevators, air and heating systems, and ADA improvements to better serve attendees with disabilities. Recognizing the significant public benefit this facility provides, the 2016 Proposed Budget includes $500,000 funding to contribute to the completion of this project.