This Week in the Budget; Help Make a New Gatewood Playfield Possible; South Park Landfill Cleanup, Public Comment; SDOT Winter Weather Response

This Week in the Budget

The Budget Committee met last week to consider potential Council amendments to the “initial” proposed balancing package I released the week before last as Chair of the Council’s Budget Committee.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet on November 14 and 15, to consider a “revised” balancing package. Per the Budget Committee process, I’m working with Council Central Staff to develop the revised balancing package. Amendments to the balancing package must be balanced at these meetings, where the first votes will take place, in advance of a scheduled Full Council vote on Monday, November 20.

Last week I noted the HOMES tax proposal, which would provide sustained, ongoing funding for addressing the homelessness emergency and related items, including preserving funding for existing programs like emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, expanding the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, new funding permanent housing for youth who are homeless, as well as new 24/7 shelters, new support for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and new units of permanent supportive housing.

What is most exciting about this proposal is that because it is an ongoing revenue source, the City could bond against this new revenue in the future.  Remember how last year the Council approved a $29 million housing bond?  Last year’s budget supporting the $29 million housing bond allowed the Office of Housing to nearly double funding this year to build housing for very low income people.  If we pass the Employee Hours Tax, we will not only be able to fund the programs listed above, but starting in 2018 we can begin to invest nearly $50 million each year and create 2000 additional units of affordable housing over four years for both low-wage working families and formerly homeless individuals. This would more than double what the Housing Levy funds each year.

An alternative proposal for funding homelessness was put forward by Councilmember Johnson. While I appreciate his commitment to funding for addressing homelessness, I have concerns about several elements of the potential funding mechanisms. First of all, it would be for one year only, rather than a committed long-term solution.

Several potential elements would require legislative changes or exemptions to current city policy or law.

One would entail removing the restriction on the minimum general fund contribution to SDOT that comes from the Move Seattle levy legislation, the $930 transportation levy passed by voters in 2015. This provision was included due to concerns the City might use the levy funds to backfill general fund contributions, rather than add to already existing funding. To address this, the Council established a minimum general fund contribution to SDOT of $40 million (adjusted for inflation in future years), and requiring a 3/4 Council vote to go below that threshold.

I fear this approach could set a bad precedent, and jeopardize our ability to pass future levies. The City Auditor’s report on the City Financial Condition noted that most capital funding for SDOT comes through the Move Seattle Transportation Levy and partnerships with other agencies; examples of levy funding in the 2018-2023 SDOT capital budget include 100% of funding included for Greenways, Urban Trails and Bikeways; nearly all the funding for Bridge Seismic Work, and well over 90% of SDOT’s Arterial Asphalt and Concrete road paving budget.

The City Auditor found the City’s overall financial position to be good, and noted the Revenue Stabilization Account, which has regular, annual contributions, and “provides a cushion for the impact of sudden, unanticipated shortfalls in revenue due to economic downturns that could undermine the City’s ability to maintain services”. I’m very leery of dipping into these funds, though it’s always tempting for elected officials. The account has successfully helped the city to maintain services during economic downturns; it was used to balance the budget in 2002, and in 2008-2009 the City used $25.4 million from the account to prevent cuts in needed services. So the current $50 million balance isn’t as large as it might seem, especially in this era where federal funding is so uncertain.

Another option put forward would modify a City law the Council adopted last year to dedicate 20% of red light camera revenues to school safety traffic and pedestrian improvements. I proposed this last year to place our policies more in line with national best practices to more closely tie revenues from cameras from revenues to related uses.

Another potential provision would require an amendment to the Families and Education levy.

A number of specific identified potential cuts are concerning; the Pedestrian Master Plan Stairway Rehabilitation line item is $1.3 million in the 2018 CIP, so cutting $730,000 would be more than ½ the funding; on the Highland Park Find It Fix It walk with the community, this was an area the community prioritized and highlighted for city officials.  A potential cut to the bicycle master plan investments of $1.2 million would total nearly 10% of the $13.1 million budget; these are important safety projects. Cutting fire hydrant maintenance would potential be cut by $700,000 (however, this would not be legal due to the Okeson Case).  Multi-year space planning in the Seattle Municipal Tower has been laid out with the impacted unions.  Modification of the schedule will further exacerbate union concerns about impacts to staff resulting from the consolidation and lack of teams being collocated.

Another potential cut would also severely impact Seattle IT’s ability to implement the Surveillance Technology Transparency ordinance, which the ACLU called the strongest in nation.

A Full Council vote on the 2018 budget is planned for November 20.

Help Make a New Gatewood Playfield Possible

More than 400 Gatewood Elementary students, and another 100 students from the Cottage School’s preschool use the playfield daily. This doesn’t include the neighborhood kids who use the playfield during non-school hours. However, the field is in poor condition.

The Gatewood Elementary Playfield Project Committee has been awarded a $100,000 matching grant from the Department of Neighborhoods, but they still need to raise an additional $50,000 to complete the project.

The Committee hopes to break ground on the project this winter or early spring so that it can be completed before the school year ends. Once complete, the new playfield will feature an irrigated grass field, running track, natural play areas, shade trees and wheelchair-accessible spaces.

If you’re able to and would like to help you can donate securely online here.

If you have questions or need assistance in donating, please contact the Gatewood Elementary Playfield Project Committee.

South Park Landfill Cleanup, Public Comment

The Department of Ecology invites you to comment on several documents related to the investigation and cleanup of the South Park Landfill site. The former South Park Landfill is a 40-acre area located in the South Park neighborhood along the 8100 & 8200 blocks of 2nd Ave S. The landfill and its associated contamination (including methane) could pose risks to human health and the environment in surrounding areas.

Ecology is leading efforts to control sources of contamination from the land area surrounding the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site. Contaminates from the site can find their way into the river through storm water runoff and other pathways. Long-term, the goal is to restore water quality to the river.

Here are the documents that Ecology is seeking your input on:

Additionally, there will be a public meeting on November 28th at 6:30pm located at the South Park Neighborhood Center (8201 10th Ave S). Ecology will hold a formal Public Hearing (for transcription of verbal comments), if 10 or more people request it.

For more information click here.

SDOT Winter Weather Response

In preparation for the cold weather months, SDOT has updated its Winter Weather Response webpage. It includes a map showing roads SDOT will prioritize for ice and snow removal; “gold” roads have the highest priority, and “emerald” roads have second-highest priority.

Also included is an interactive map showing which roads have been de-iced in the last hour, three hours, and twelve hours. It also shows the location of traffic cameras for a live view of current conditions.  A brochure is available on the website in multiple languages.

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