This Week in the Budget; City Auditor Report on City Finances; Disability Rights Fairness Hearing; Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This Week in the Budget

The City Council’s Budget Committee will hold a second public hearing on the 2018 budget on November 1 at City Hall. In addition, there will be hearings on the Seattle Asian Art Museum Renovation, and the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Central Waterfront Piers Rehabilitation Projects, as required by law.

The hearings begin at 5:30 p.m.; sign-up begins at 4:30 p.m. More information about the hearings, and accessibility at City Hall, is available here.

The Council met as the Budget Committee this week to consider 143 different proposals developed by Councilmembers to amend the Mayor’s Proposed 2018 budget. Here are links to the meeting agendas for Tuesday and Wednesday, which include links to a total of 143 individual proposals.

The other Budget Committee meeting next week will be on October 31, for the presentation of the Chair’s Initial Balancing Package; as Chair of the Budget Committee that’s my responsibility. The proposal must be balanced.

Councilmembers can then propose changes the following week, at meetings scheduled for November 7 and 8. More information about the budget process is described here.

Here’s a link to the Budget Committee schedule, and a summary of the Council’s budget process. The Mayor’s Proposed 2018 Budget and 2018-2023 Capital Improvements Program can be accessed at the City Budget Office webpage. The Council’s budget website includes a searchable Budget Document Database for Council budget documents dating back to 2009.  The database includes both issue papers and specific Councilmember proposals.

You can find Budget Committee agendas here; you can sign up to receive e-mails with meeting agendas here.


City Auditor Report on City Finances, 2012-2016

The Seattle City Auditor released a report on the City’s budget and finances over the last four years, titled City of Seattle Financial Condition 2012-2016.

It’s a comprehensive analysis of the City’s finances, based on the eight financial and economic indicators: 1) revenues and expenses; 2) debt; 3) pension liabilities; 4) capital assets; 5) financial and operating position; 6) city budget trends; 7) city wide employment, and 8) economic and demographic information.

The report has several informative charts, including a comparison of the per capita impact—a useful measurement, given that Seattle’s population increased by 11% from 2012 to 2016, from 616,000 to 686,000.

The audit was mandated by Council legislation passed in 2016, along with a follow up report scheduled for September, 2018, and every two years after that. These requirements are enshrined in the Seattle Municipal Code, section 3.40.060

The report notes,

“A city in good financial condition can meet its financial obligations on a continuing basis. It can maintain existing service levels, withstand economic disruptions, and respond to growth, decline, and change. A financially healthy government collects sufficient revenues to pay short-term bills, finance major capital expenditures, and meet long- term obligations without transferring disproportionate costs to future periods.”

“Overall, the City of Seattle financial and economic indicators we present in this report are positive.”

Below are some of the key points in the eight report areas. Figures below are adjusted for inflation, unless indicated otherwise.

Revenues: revenues were up 20% since 2012, or only 8% per capita (just barely above the rate of inflation) over the entire 5-year period; part of this reflects the increase in the size of voter-approved levies. This is a good illustration of the statement that revenues do not keep up with inflation or the increased costs of providing city services.  The City’s limited revenue sources include property taxes, sales tax, business taxes and various charges. Public safety is the largest general expense, at $577 million. The City receives 29% of the total property tax levy; the rest goes to other state and local governments.

Debt: The City’s general purpose debt has decreased since 2012, with debt service covered by the City’s general fund down 20% (not adjusted for inflation). The amount of voted debt increased, due to the $290 million seawall bond. The City’s debt polices adopted in 2014 set a goal of retaining the highest practical credit rating; the City has consistently maintained high bond ratings. Revenue bonds are paid for with specific revenues (e.g. City Light and Seattle Public Utilities rates), and cannot be used for general purposes. The City does not have any lines of credit for short-term debt.

Pension liabilities: The City’s pension fund has had a deficit; in 2013, the Council set a 30-year amortization plan to reach full funding. During the four years since 2013, the funding ratio has increased by 4.6% to a total of 68%. The audit notes many experts recommend at least 80%. The City also created a second track for pension plan designed to help close this gap over time.

Capital assets: Eight city departments manage most of the City’s capital assets. The highest are City Light and SDOT, with assets with a replacement value of $20 billion, with an overall total estimate of $46 billion. Over the last 14 years, Seattle voters have approved seven levies to support the City’s capital assets. How departments fund capital assets vary. For SDOT, funding is mostly through levies and grants. Parks relies on the Seattle Parks District. The report notes the Real Estate Excise Tax is used for various departments including SDOT and Parks.

Financial and operating position: the report notes the City has fully funded reserve accounts. The “Rainy Day Fund” had $47 million (it now has $54 million), designed to cover activities in the event of revenue shortfalls; the Emergency Subfund, for unplanned expenses, has $60 million. Both of these funds are near or at their maximum allowed funding levels.  Liquidity, or the ability to pay short-term bills, is measured by the ratio of current assets to currents liabilities. A low ratio, below $1 of assets for $1 of liabilities, can indicate a cash flow problem or the need for short-term borrowing. The City’s liquidity ratio has been healthy during this period, at $2.37 in 2016.

City budget trends: The total value of the City’s Capital Improvement program increased 41% between 2008 and 2017, with SDOT having the largest increase (largely due to work on major projects such as the Mercer Corridor, and Spokane Street Viaduct). For operations, some departments, such as the Seattle Police Department, are funded entirely from the General Fund. Other departments have their own revenue sources (the Human Services Department receives significant grants, Parks has some concessions revenue). This section has interesting tables showing the operating budgets from 2008 to 2017 for the 10 largest City departments. Adjusted for inflation, SPD’s budget has increased 27%.

Citywide employment: City employment grew 9% from the end of 2007 to the end of 2016. SDP’s number of positions went up 14%.

Economic and demographic information: As noted earlier, Seattle’s population increased 11% from 2012 to 2016. 54% of jobs in Seattle were in the service sector. The total value of all assessed property in Seattle increased 59% from $117 billion in 2011 to $186 billion in 2016.


Disability Rights Fairness Hearing for Lawsuit, November 1, 10 a.m.

Earlier this year the City reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Washington, committing to installing thousands of curb ramps throughout Seattle, to improve access for disabled persons. A proposed consent decree sets out commitments.

The final step in the process is a fairness hearing, scheduled for November 1, 10 a.m. in Courtroom 16106 of US District Court at 700 Stewart Street. At this hearing members of the affected class, disabled persons, can speak to the settlement agreement’s fairness and adequacy.

You can contact if you’d like to comment.

Here’s the SDOT ADA webpage where you can make a request for a curb ramp, or report bad or missing ramps.


The Seattle Women’s Commission Recognizes Domestic Violence Awareness Month

DV awareness month

October is domestic violence awareness month.  According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence affects more than 12 million people in the United States each year. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is an opportunity for us to learn more about an issue that touches so many people’s lives.  I want to recognize the local leadership of the Seattle Women’s Commission in highlighting the importance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and lifting up the on-going partnership and leadership of the following organizations:

  • Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services
  • API Chaya
  • Asian Counseling and Referral Services
  • Aurora Commons
  • Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence
  • Consejo Counseling and Referral Service
  • Eastside Legal Assistance Program
  • Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress
  • InterIm CDA
  • Jewish Family Services
  • King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
  • King County Sexual Assault Resource Center
  • New Beginnings
  • Northwest Immigrant Rights Project
  • Northwest Justice Project
  • Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse
  • Organization for Prostitution Survivors
  • Powerful Voices
  • Refugee Women’s Alliance
  • Salvation Army
  • Seattle City Attorney’s Office
  • Seattle Indian Health Board
  • Seattle Municipal Court
  • Seattle Police Department
  • Wellspring
  • YouthCare
  • YWCA
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