THE Seattle City Council appears to be showing responsible self-restraint heading into Monday’s scheduled vote on the city’s $1 billion general-fund budget.
Budget writers could have taken advantage of the first substantial revenue growth in years by granting a wishlist of new programs.
Instead, the council plans to replenish the city’s reserves to a record $34 million and to make modest, strategic investments in early learning and public safety.
This cautious approach is welcome as Seattle emerges from several consecutive years of recession-related cuts to staff and services.
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Along the way, the council learned a few lessons on crafting a sustainable financial plan.
Thanks to new requirements introduced by Budget Committee Chairman Tim Burgess last January, all requests before the council this year must demonstrate clear goals, measurable outcomes, effectiveness and accountability standards.
Vague appeals with little or no evidence of success did not make the final budget. Smart investments did.
About $3.1 million is expected to be dedicated to improving downtown public safety, the search for a police chief and funding independent reviews of the Seattle Police Department’s management and use of force policies.
These are all prudent expenditures as a federal monitor continues scathing criticism of the force’s so-far lackluster reform efforts.
Another important investment is $656,000 to design a preschool program by fall 2015 and more training for child-care providers. Evidence shows a focus on the city’s 3- and 4-year-old children now will better prepare them for kindergarten. Early learning is a critical way to close chronic achievement gaps throughout Seattle.
After four years of tumultuous relations between Mayor Mike McGinn and the council, the 2014 budget also reflects the members’ eagerness to cooperate with Mayor-elect Ed Murray. The council allocated $750,000 to help Murray beef up his staff by 20 percent, plus an additional $250,000 so he can hire an outside public-safety consultant to assess current resources and determine where system changes are needed.
Those extra resources must be used wisely to produce high-caliber policy recommendations and a more efficient city government.
Monday’s council vote signals a promising start to a new era at Seattle City Hall.