Saturday, November 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"People first" budget OK'd: City Council adds $6 million to mayor's plan

Seattle Times staff reporter

Bookmobile patrons, parks users, social services and public libraries were big winners as the Seattle City Council adopted a 2005 budget package yesterday that adds almost $6 million in spending to Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal.

But utility customers will pay. The council voted to raise water, sewer, garbage and drainage charges about $16 a year for the average homeowner to balance next year's budget.

Council members said they kept their pledge to "put people first." It wasn't just the poor and disabled the council helped. It restored a wide range of positions and services Nickels had cut. Urban foresters, city archivists, gay-teen services and a police-accountability specialist were some who benefited from the council's package.

The council even went against its own 2002 resolution, which called for the Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet to pay for a shortfall in McCaw Hall financing. Instead, the council chipped in $228,000 toward the performance-hall debt next year (and $454,800 in 2006) so opera and ballet patrons may not have to pay a $1.50 to $2 ticket surcharge recommended by Nickels.

"The whole city won," said Council Budget Chairman Richard McIver.

But Kriss Sjoblom, a local economist, wasn't so sure.

"I'm concerned that the increase in utility costs can have consequences for businesses that might want to locate here," said Sjoblom, vice president of the Washington Research Council, a business-supported think tank in Seattle.

While social-service advocates fasted outside council offices and bookmobile patrons packed public hearings, Sjoblom noted that no group lobbies City Hall on behalf of the average taxpayer. "Maybe this will be the thing that will kick it off," said Sjoblom, who authored a 2003 report on the city's spending trends.

The council will formally approve the 2005 budget Nov. 22. McIver said he did not expect any changes. This year's general-fund budget, which pays for services such as police, fire protection, parks and libraries, is $666 million. The council's package would increase it to almost $685 million next year. Marianne Bichsel, the mayor's spokeswoman, said Nickels was pleased with the outcome. "All the mayor's priorities are in there. We'll look at the details next week."

The council's package includes:

• $2.1 million for street paving, bridge repairs, bike and pedestrian improvements and traffic-signal maintenance.

• $500,000 to restore the library's bookmobile service, which was eliminated in the mayor's proposed budget.

• $500,000 for the library's book budget.

• $457,000 for the Volunteer Park Conservatory so users would not have to pay a fee the mayor had proposed.

• $240,000 for social-service advocacy and administrative support.

• $152,000 to fully restore the Late Night Teen Recreation program.

• 138,000 for a city photographer and visual archives.

• $125,000 for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen services.

• $94,000 for an assistant director in the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability.

• $82,000 for an urban forester.

Those who didn't fare so well in the council's package include firefighters, public-restroom users, and Southwest Seattle residents who oppose a proposed sale of city-owned open space in their neighborhoods.

About 30 firefighters showed up at the council chambers yesterday to lobby for more money so that Engine 21 in Phinney Ridge would not see one of its fire-engine crews reduced from four firefighters to three.

Fire Chief Greg Dean recently made that reduction to bolster staffing at the dispatch center. Firefighters opposed the shift of personnel because four-person crews are safer and more efficient in battling blazes.

Several firefighters asked council members to use the $228,000 they had committed to McCaw Hall to hire dispatchers and preserve Engine 21's four-person crew. But they were rebuffed. Instead, the council pledged to try to restore Engine 21's crew in 2006. "I expect to identify funds in 2006. It should be one of our main concerns," said Councilman Nick Licata.

The council also voted to cut $69,000 that pays for an attendant to monitor public restrooms at Fire Station 10 in Pioneer Square. Council President Jan Drago argued that with the opening of a new automated-toilet facility in nearby Occidental Park, the Station 10 restroom was "redundant" and could be closed.

Delridge and Riverview neighborhood activists argued that the city should not sell 11 acres of open space, known as the Soundway West and Orchard Corner properties.

Nickels proposed selling those properties to housing developers to help finance a new downtown homeless hygiene center, the Wing Luke Asian Museum and the African-American Museum.

The council gave activists a reprieve, but not a long one. Council members voted to delay the sale until September 2005 so conservation groups could have some time to raise money to buy and preserve the properties. "I'm concerned about the short period of time, but it is a compromise," said Councilman Tom Rasmussen.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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