May 12, 2008

Report on Council Budget Hearing at Miller

In the City's words:
In May, the Council will hold four community budget meetings throughout Seattle. At these meetings, residents can hear about current budget challenges and discuss their budget priorities directly with Councilmembers and staff. As the economic outlook for the City budget becomes increasingly uncertain, citizens can discuss how they want to balance the City’s need for public safety, parks, human services, and
other programs. Designing a city budget is a mighty undertaking, one that requires a great deal of effort, careful ordering of priorities and considerable input from citizens. Passage of a balanced budget is one of the most important things your City Council does each year.

Several more opportunities to hear the Council's Budget show (May 2, 22, 29). Immediately below is information from Councilmember Godden's office, followed by my impressions. (And here's the information in assorted languages and a summary in English)

I'm attaching the three documents that were handed out at the Miller Park meeting. They are the meeting agenda, budget overview PowerPoint and Instant Polling questions. Feel free to distribute. People can still respond with comments and instant polling answers. Instant polling totals will be posted on the council web site. We will get these up as soon as we can. Please feel free to direct people to the council web site which has additional information and links relating to the budget. This page will be updated as we go through the process with useful information and resources for budget watchers.
Tom Van Bronkhorst

Office of Councilmember Jean Godden

Andrew's view. I got to welcome the Councilmembers to Miller Community Center, on behalf of the East District Council (represented by me), Lake Union District Council (represented by Chris Leman, who also spoke as Chair of the City Neighborhood Council), and the Northeast District Council. I then donned my Miller Community Center Advisory Council "hat", noted the 10th anniversary of the Community Center and delivered my budget one-liner: "if times are tough, first priority is to maintain what we've got".

Five Councilmembers ( Licata, Clark, McIver, Burgess and Godden [Budget Chair]) were there, as well as Council Budget expert, Ben Noble. The audience consisted of myself, a lot of people from social service providers, Chris Leman, and a couple of other civilians, as well as a bevy of City staff. The Seattle Channel taped the event, which will eventually be here.

We started with Claudia Gross-Shader of the City Auditor's Office explaining the "Instant Polling": she flashed questions up on the screen, we pushed the buttons on the little boxes that we'd been issued, and the answers appeared on the screen (and could be sliced and diced and plotted in an Excel Chart like manner). We started with some warm-up questions (Community Introductions). After we'd all mastered the little boxes, we moved on to Council Budget expert Ben Noble's Powerpoint Presentation. [Don't have Powerpoint? Try this free viewer].

The present concern is (mainly) that 25% of the City Budget comes from Property Taxes, which can only rise 1% per year, but expenses are rising faster than that. Couple that with expectations of lowered employment, and we may have budget problems.

We then all had a chance to talk to the Councilmembers, who commented on some of our issues. The assorted social service providers all advocated for funds for their projects, I spoke in favor of the Seattle Neighborhood Group, and Chris Leman chided City Council for not publishing their budget data on the City website in a timely manner (or ever). They had no comment.

Most of the Councilmembers then left and we then whipped out our Instant Polling boxes again, and answered the Budget Priorities questions . There were about 17 of us voting and I not sure I remember all the answers. As I recall, our budget priorities were Public Safety followed by Human Services. Our highest Public Services priority was general policing and our highest Parks/Libraries priority was Park Maintenance. I recall our transportation priorities being all over the place, our planning priority being neighborhood planning, and our next step being to "Work with a community organization on an issue" (which is what I am doing).

Is it worth a couple of hours of your time to sit through one of these? If you have a specific budget issue it's an easy way to get it out there early in the budget process (see the budget hints). If you're passionate about it, organize a lot of people to testify. And yes, resign yourself to sitting for hours in the Council Chambers with 100's of other impassioned people at the end of the budget process (Hint: they've got free internet access - you can get a lot done while you wait).

Oh, and there was food and coffee! And bottled water, despite the Mayor's desire to do away with same, and the several water fountains at Miller.

No comments: