THE SEATTLE City Council is settling into slasher mode as it begins budget deliberations.
The budget ax will be wielded not simply due to falling city revenues but to a do-it-yourself challenge issued by outgoing Mayor Paul Schell. In drafting his budget proposal, Schell eliminated $6.5 million in funding the council had already earmarked for street repair, sidewalks, and transitional housing. If the council wants the money back, it will have to assemble its own list of cuts.
Council member Peter Steinbrueck says he's stunned Schell would attempt to override the council on these key issues. He vows, "We're not going to take it lying down." Steinbrueck, who led the process to obtain the extra $2.7 million allocation for transitional housing and new homeless-shelter beds, says the council hopes to reinstate that funding—along with another $1 million for new sidewalks and $2.8 million for enhanced street maintenance.
Schell also ignored a request from six council members to include funding for the Vera Project, the city-sponsored all-ages music venue (the council's letter also called for additional funding for the Seattle Children's Museum, which the mayor is supporting).
Vera Project executive director James Keblas says the city provided about $70,000 in funds through various departments this year and that supporters had hoped for a $125,000 allocation in 2002. Founded in part due to a city youth-task force recommendation, the Vera Project had met some fairly ambitious goals and was looking to expand its programming, not shut its doors. Says Keblas, "I understand cutbacks, but to completely disassemble the whole thing is just ludicrous."
Steinbrueck says that reinstating Vera Project funding is also on his budget season to-do list: "We're going to be making some changes to the budget, no doubt."
Council member Richard Conlin agrees, calling the Vera Project "one of those programs that really is paying off tremendously on a very modest investment."
In fact, when cutting the fat, council members may first look to the mayor's office. Conlin says, "I think we need to see if some of those positions [in the mayor's office], particularly some that have been added in the last four years, are essential."