City budget to help the needy, public transit, and libraries

The city council budget committee voted on Nov. 16 to pass a budget for 2006. The full council voted on Monday, Nov. 28. All nine councilmembers serve on the budget committee, so it is unlikely there will be any changes.

Councilmember McIver served as budget chair, and I thank him for piecing together a very valuable and workable budget.

The council has adjusted the mayor's proposed budget in three major ways:

1) It provides increased services for our neediest citizens;

2) It provides increased transit planning for dealing with our key transportation corridors; and

3) It significantly improves our library by increasing our book collection and expanding the hours in our branch libraries.

I am disappointed that we could not add more police officers for bike and foot beat patrols. But I recognize that this is a huge cost that must not only be sustained in the future but also grows larger each year.

For that reason, I believe the council will have to revisit our 1 percent growth cap on our property levy, that was forced on us by a state initiative. It has resulted in the city losing over $40 million so far and it has continued to limit our ability to provide services to our citizens, such as adequate police patrols.

I look forward to working with other councilmembers early next year to consider going to the voters to raise the cap to the previous level.

Lastly, I am very pleased and excited by the council following through on one of the key recommendations coming out of last spring's crime summit, held in the council chambers, where citizens asked us to improve public safety through taking a more comprehensive approach that links law enforcement with social services for those who are repeat offenders, people with mental illnesses, severe drug and/or alcohol addiction and are involved in street level illegal activity.

The money that we have set aside and the oversight taskforce to be created will allow us to try this new approach as a pilot program in two or more neighborhoods. And if it is as successful as I believe it will be in reducing crime and assisting offenders in becoming responsible citizens, then I hope to see it duplicated throughout the city.

Overall, the council's approved budget for 2006 sets the stage for our city to better serve our citizens. We now have the challenge of following through with adequate oversight on these new programs and services to make sure that they do what we intend for them to do.

Public safety

Overall, the council added around $1 million for public safety, most of which came from my proposals:

* $400,000 to link law enforcement and human services;

* Funding for one precinct liaison position, linking a city attorney to a police precinct, $100,000;

* Funding a position for a Mental Health Court, $52,000;

* Graffiti abatement coordinator, $27,000;

* Two advisors to emergency management and transfer crime prevention coordinators to police precincts;

* Increase in funding of $125,000 for community court-related services;

* Earmarked 325,000 in the jail services budget for a and day reporting program to reduce incarceration in the King County Jail;

* Accelerate evaluation of community court

* Funding for elder abuse investigations (sponsored by Councilmember Rasmussen).

Other initiatives

Listed below are other items I proposed or co-sponsored that were included in the budget:

* $350,000 for shelter and transitional housing services to preserve a no-net loss of shelter beds over 2005 levels;

* Funding for low-income/affordable housing inventory study;

* Funding to add open library hours on Sundays (this is $520,000 of the overall $2.46 million package passed by the council);

* $15,000 for signage of privately-owned, publicly accessible downtown open space from the city's bonus program;

* Portable cameras for the Seattle Channel.

As a final point, here are some items I proposed which did not get approved:

* Funding for 30 additional Police patrol officers for bicycle squads;

* Funding for tenant eviction prevention services;

* Funding for the Working Wheels Community Garage.

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