4 to Explore: A Northeast Neighborhoods Newsletter

2015 November

1 Meeting to Connect

More Preschools or More Pensions?

PART 1:  The debate over how City Hall taxes and spends centers on the old “zero-sum game” paradigm: if Seattle wants to spend another dollar for a good cause, taxpayers need to give another dollar. But what about saving money, too?  If city leaders truly care about achieving positive outcomes for those in need, why not find money by saving on other costs and expenses? That’s what we do in our own families, right?

During the City Council debate covering Northeast Seattle (District 4), we asked the two remaining candidates twice, “In addition to tax levies, how would you also SAVE money in order to generate additional dollars for social services?” Disturbingly, neither candidate had specific ideas.

In addition to tax levies, could City Hall find tens of millions of dollars from EXISTING resources to house the homeless, hire policing officers, and fix our roads? YES.

MORE PENSIONS OR MORE PRESCHOOL? CITY LEADERS CAN RIGHT-SIZE RETIREMENT BENEFITS OF FUTURE CITY GOVT EMPLOYEES AND RE-DIRECT SAVINGS TO HELP VULNERABLE PEOPLE. (Bumper stickers coming soon!)

Personnel costs comprise the bulk of any city budget, but the cost of city government retirement benefits has grown dramatically for Seattle. Yet city employee union contracts AND retirement benefits are separated from most discussions of the city budget. The City government has been not only providing the most generous retirement benefits of any government around, but also requiring taxpayers to subsidize it more every year thus far. In 2010, our city government (as the “Employer”, i.e. the taxpayers) contributed $45.2 million to the pension fund of city employees, but then contributed over $90 million in 2014 (according to Table 13 of the Jan 2015 Actuarial Valuation). In other words, the annual contribution from taxpayers to city government employee retirement benefits has doubled in just 5 years.  Moreover, the cost to taxpayers just to administer the pension system for city government employees increased from $8.1 million in 2014 to $13.5 million in 2015 (according to the 2016 proposed budget, page 463). While city leaders might argue the taxpayer (“Employer”) contribution will, as a percent of overall city payroll, inch down from 15.7% to 15.2%, our total annual cash contribution to city employees is still twice as high as in 2010.

These dollars could have been used to build housing for the homeless, hire more police officers, and pave our streets.  While City leaders should be commended for recently adopting the standard safeguards recommended by accounting experts, they have not actively pursued meaningful savings from retirement benefits by raising their retirement age (city employees can retire as young as 52 years old) and/or starting new government hires with a sustainable 401(k) or other “defined contribution plan.” As much as we criticize our state and federal governments for “not getting anything done,” they have at least reformed their retirement systems for their employees, thereby freeing up money for pressing needs.  The annual City Budget meetings are your chance to voice your concerns.

  • WHAT: City Budget Meetings
  • WHO: You, your neighbors, and groups who want more resources for those who need it the most.
  • WHEN: Thurs, Oct 29, Fri, Oct 30, Mon, Nov 2, and Fri, Nov 13, 2015.
  • WHERE: your City Hall. For travel directions, CLICK HERE.

Suggested Next Steps:

(1) SAVE money by (a) raising the retirement age AND (b) providing future city government employees with a 401(k) (or similar defined contribution plan) (or other reforms) rather than perpetuating the unsustainable, expensive pension (defined benefit) plan.

[UPDATE: According to the Association of Retired Seattle City Employees, the city government is attempting to negotiate with some of the city government unions to offer a different retirement benefit for new employees called a “Cash Balance Pension Plan.”  While it could achieve some savings in some years, it is still a “defined benefit” structure that continues to leave taxpayers on the hook to cover any losses and to guarantee a financial return — in this case, a return of 7.5%.  To read the arsce.org newsletters, CLICK HERE.]

 

(2) INVEST the savings into evidence-based programs proven to achieve their positive outcomes (such as high-quality preschool). [Note: Some argue that any savings should be invested to reduce the future unfunded liability in the system, but City Hall recently reduced the city contribution (for 2016), thanks to improvements in the stock market — therefore, it has already shown its willingness to reduce the taxpayer contribution — as long as the liabilities can be paid down in the Year 2043, per the 30-year plan.]

(3) HIRE LEGAL COUNSEL who understands the flexibility local governments have in shaping retirement (and medical) benefits for city employees.

(4) When the City Council selects a NEW FINANCE / BUDGET CHAIR, he or she should have a plan for right-sizing retirement benefits for new employees so that more resources are available for the city’s most vulnerable.

FURTHER READING:

to be continued…

1 Issue to Engage

Vote by Tuesday, Nov 3, 2015

Your election ballot is due Tuesday, Nov 3.

For websites and campaign donors for ALL candidates and ballot measures, CLICK HERE. To view the Seattle Channel videos of the candidates CLICK HERE and HERE.

Whatever you do, VOTE and show City Hall the strong voice of Northeast Seattle.

Here are some exceptional choices for our city:


Tim Burgess, Position 8 (citywide)

 


Bill Bradburd, Position 9 (citywide)

 

At the neighborhood level, your “4 to Explore” newsletter focuses on Northeast Seattle, which will be represented primarily by City Council Districts 4 and 5. For a map, CLICK HERE.

4 to Explore” is proud to have organized the first-ever “Neighborhood Newsletter Debate” between the District 4 candidates last month. For those debate results, courtesy of Wallyhood, CLICK HERE.

The good news is that both remaining candidates Rob Johnson and Michael Maddux pledged to personally visit EVERY COMMUNITY COUNCIL in District 4 at least once per year.

 

NO on Transpo Tax? (City of Seattle Prop 1):  There are plenty of fancy ads and interest groups lobbying for City Hall’s $930 million transportation measure, dubbed by its supporters as “Move Seattle.”

But for 10 Reasons Why People are Voting NO on the Transportation Levy, CLICK HERE.  This includes links to the reasons the Seattle Times, League of Women’s Voters, and the Municipal League all urge a NO vote on the City’s Prop 1

1 Fun to Enjoy

Ravenna Park: Explore Outdoors

For the little bug-loving, mud-stomping, budding scientist in your family, we recommend this month’s “Fun to Enjoy” in a park near you:

RAVENNA PARK NATURE WALK WITH EXPLORE OUTDOORS

  • WHAT: Nature walk: “Children will engage in hands-on activities and explorations while learning scientific concepts and building their understanding of the natural world. Adults will learn about natural history and get to know other parents, grandparents, and caregivers who enjoy the outdoors…”
  • WHO: Caregivers and their children ages 3-7. Led by Explore Outdoors.
  • WHEN: 10 a.m. to Noon.
  • Saturday, Nov 7: “Mushroom Mania”
  • Saturday, Nov 14: “Rain, Water, & Mud”
  • LOCATION: Ravenna Park (exact location provided when registering online)
  • REGISTER: Must register and pay in advance: CLICK HERE.
  • MORE INFO: Ask Kate@exploreoutdoors.us

The mission of Explore Outdoors is to inspire curiosity and joy while building scientific understanding of the natural world…by providing engaging outdoor classes, hikes, and tours in parks throughout the Seattle area, tailored to meet with needs of children, families, and adult groups” (from their website).

The founder Kate Maher in Wedgwood is well qualified and makes science fun.

BONUS FUN: “Meet the Mammals” at the Burke Museum on UW’s campus on NE 45th Street and 15th Ave NE.  Saturday, Nov 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Families can find other fun events this month on the calendar websites of Parent MapRed Tricycle, and Seattle’s Child.

NEIGHBORHOOD:  To explore more of Ravenna and Bryant, subscribe to the Ravenna Blog, “like” 4 to Explore on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. You can also attend the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association (RCBA). The RBCA is among the many community councils that serve on our Northeast District Council (NEDC).

1 Store to Adore

Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe

Pumpkin Pie! Now that we have your attention…

Sure, we crave meat sometimes, but we also adore the most vegetarian of all vegetarian restaurants in Northeast Seattle: CHACO CANYON ORGANIC CAFE. So maybe you’d rather be devouring a steak than reading this column or you’ve been growing kale in your community garden since 1972 — nevertheless, you should learn what there is to adore about this U District eatery.

A fun outing with the family is to stroll through the U District Farmers Market on a Saturday morning, then walk just 2 blocks over to Chaco Canyon for lunch.

In addition to the food, what is the most welcoming attribute of Chaco Canyon?  The people who work there. Instead of lecturing you about the precise definition of “organic” or what’s in season today and only today, the people of Chaco Canyon exude the joy of food. If you’re receptive, they pass along knowledge about their food with the charm and wonder of when they first discovered it.

  • Organic? Yes.
  • Yummy Pumpkin Pie? As sure as wheat contains gluten.
  • Quality Espresso Drinks? Step aside, Starbucks.
  • Hearty meals with zesty sauces including authentic Thai? ไหว้ , of course.
  • Fresh juices and smoothies with fruit rather than ice? Yes, you can jettison Jamba Juice.

But don’t take only our word for it; check out their glowing reviews on YELP.

Per the Chaco Canyon website: “We source the best ingredients available (sustainably produced, organic, eco-friendly, and local) while balancing it with keeping the cost of food reasonable for your, our dear community.”

  • LOCATION: 4757 NE 50th Street in U District (newer locations in Greenwood and West Seattle)
  • HOURS: Mon thru Fri, 7:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.  (Sat/Sun 9-9)
  • CONTACT:  206-522-6966
  • MENU: Click Here.

For info about how the restaurant got its name, ask the owner, see if you can find the painting inside, or view the website about the “real” Chaco Canyon in New Mexico by CLICKING HERE.

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