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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

July 26, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Candidates, mayor differ on library funding

Mayoral Candidate Peter Steinbrueck has called out Mayor Mike McGinn for recommending a $1 million reduction to the 2013 library budget in the executive’s supplemental budget.

The mayor’s office was quick to respond that it is not cutting any programs, services, hours or collections. Rather, said spokesman Robert Cruickshank, it’s redirecting some savings the city found after discovering that it had budgeted twice to end the one-week August furlough throughout the library system. And health care costs for the libraries are about $500,000 less than anticipated.

Cruickshank called the reallocation of library funding “a technical change that reflects overbudgeting.” And he added that the library “is on board” with both adjustments.

But Steinbrueck, along with Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Jean Godden, say savings found in the library budget should stay with the library and not be redirected to other general fund programs. They note that 13 branches are still closed on Fridays and the library is still trying to rebuild collections and catch up on building maintenance deferred during four years of budget cuts.

Steinbrueck notes that the recommended reduction comes in the same week McGinn sent out a campaign flyer asking “What if Seattle had a mayor who made sure our libraries stayed open?” The answer on the reverse side picks up a theme from the mayor’s reelection campaign ads and mailers: “We do and his name is Mike McGinn.”

Steinbrueck, who served two terms on the Library Foundation Board, said, “I’d like to see these funds stay with the libraries. I’m certain they could find a good use for them.”

Burgess agreed saying, “This is about values. The people strongly supported the library levy last year and we shouldn’t undercut their wisdom by whittling away our general fund support.”

The 2013 budget appropriated $48 million in general funds to the library. The total after the reallocation will be about $47 million, down from $49.3 million in 2012, according to council staff.

In August 2012, Seattle voters approved a seven-year, 123 million levy with 63 percent support. Of the approximately $17 million raised annually, about $12 million goes to end the system-wide August furlough, rebuild collections, add computers and e-books, and maintain facilities.

The remaining $5 million goes into the city’s general fund contribution to the library budget, freeing up that amount for other city departments and initiatives.

Some of the money saved from the library budget could go to fund some of the mayor’s other requests for the remainder of 2013. McGinn is asking for $200,000 to staff the new Community Police Commission, $250,000 for arts education and $427,000 to support the GigaBit broadband program, among other funding recommendations.

Councilmember Richard Conlin, who chaired the library levy planning committee, said if the money reallocated represents genuine savings in the budget, it’s appropriate to redirect it to other general fund uses.

If it’s a real cut to library programs, he said, “that’s not only troubling, but I don’t think the council will approve it.” He said he hadn’t had a chance yet to dig into the details. The council must approve the supplemental budget and won’t likely take it up until September.

What really gripes Conlin is the mayor taking credit for levies in which the council and city  staff did the bulk of the heavy lifting, including months of stakeholder meetings, financial calculations and public outreach. Not to mention voters approving a property tax increase on themselves.

Still, Conlin was philosophical about the mayor’s campaign giving McGinn sole credit for keeping libraries open.

“That’s what mayors do,” he said.

0 Comments | More in Politics Northwest, Seattle City Council | Topics: libraries, mike mcginn, Peter Steinbrueck

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