It’s budget season, taxpayers. Some facts to consider:
On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell will announce his proposed 2023 budget. Last year’s approved city budget totaled $7.1 billion.
At roughly the same time, King County Executive Dow Constantine will unveil the county’s two-year spending plan, which was $12.59 billion in 2020.
Over the next few weeks, the legislative branches of both governments will hold hearings on various aspects of the proposals, and pass final packages in November.
For the average taxpayer, there is something else to consider: upcoming ballot measures that could add hundreds of dollars to property-tax bills, raising mortgages and rents across the region.
The question becomes — how much should local government be expected to accomplish within its established budgets, and what should taxpayers be asked to augment?
Tuesday, the Seattle City Council — acting as the Seattle Park District Board — is set to vote on increasing the annual parks levy for an average Seattle home assessed at $860,000 from $155 this year to $342 in 2023, and about $450 by 2028.
In November, King County residents will be asked to approve increasing the Conservation Futures property tax to pay for urban green spaces, salmon habitat, forests and farmlands. It would cost the owner of a median-value home about $21.75 more annually.
On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new, $1.25 billion, nine-year behavioral health measure for the April ballot. It is estimated to cost the owner of a median-value home about $121 in 2024.
Next year, Seattle voters will be asked to renew the Housing Levy, which has created affordable apartments and home-ownership assistance. The current levy is assessed at about $0.15 per $1,000 of assessed value, or about $129 for a home assessed at $860,000.
In 2024, the nine-year Levy to Move Seattle transportation package expires and will likely be on the ballot. That currently costs the homeowner of a home with an assessed value of $860,000 about $315 annually.
Administration costs in Seattle city government have increased from 14% of all overall expenses in 2015 to 21% in 2022 — largely driven by personnel costs including pensions. Payroll costs comprise the bulk of general fund expenses — including base salaries for 12,000 city government employees that average $100,000, plus benefits and pensions.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen said he has heard from anxious constituents. “I’m hopeful that the multibillion budget proposal from the Mayor’s Office will start to tame the mushrooming administrative and personnel costs of city government because I hear many complaints about rising tax bills,” he said. “Policymakers should not use the hardworking people of Seattle as an ATM machine to pay for the growing administrative costs at City Hall.”
Advocates across the political spectrum decry the lack of affordability in Seattle. If City Hall wants to help the average resident, it ought to make sure its financial house is in order, and not make more revenues the immediate go-to when it comes to hard choices.