City budget cuts usually mean bad news for the poor, as vital social programs tend to get the ax. For weeks, a special committee made up of three city council members and Mayor Greg Nickels has been grappling behind closed doors with how to deal with an anticipated $10 million budget shortfall.
One surprising result: City Attorney Tom Carr's office, which was told to come up with cuts of more than $400,000, says it may stop jailing people whose licenses have been suspended for infractions such as failing to appear in court on traffic charges, a change that would eliminate more than $400,000 in jail and prosecution costs in 2004 alone. Offenders would go through a court-mandated diversion and relicensing program. Carr says that while he isn't entirely comfortable with "not enforcing the law," he doesn't "see the criminal-justice approach as being effective," either. And, Carr notes, "it's very expensive." The changes wouldn't do away with the controversial car-impound ordinance, but it would undo a small portion of a problematic Mark Sidran-era program that disproportionately whacks those who can least afford to pay their tickets. ERICA C. BARNETT
There's more sad news for fans of the 23rd Avenue and East Union Street sandwich mecca, Philly's Best. Last month, Philly's surviving co-owner, Charles Humphrie, unexpectedly closed shop. (The shop's other co-owner, Troy Hackett, was mysteriously found dead in his car from gunshot wounds on July 30.)
The Department of Revenue says the company was delinquent in taxes to the tune of $19,683 last year. The restaurant's answering machine says, "We are in the process of reorganizing and will be open again for business in the near future." Humphrie did not return our calls regarding the back taxes. BRIAN WALTON
While the Puget Sound Skateboard Association (PSSA) was fighting the Ballard Chamber of Commerce to save Ballard Skate Park's concrete bowl, PSSA tentatively counted Seattle Parks and Recreation as an ally. The parks staff had included the Ballard Bowl in some of the new park's designs. So a February 27 press release from the parks department came as a cold slap: Parks staff will likely recommend a new Ballard park design that ditches the bowl, because a "full-service skateboarding facility" needs more space than the new park can offer. "The popularity of the bowl has made it a regional attraction, which has impacts greater than those appropriate for a small neighborhood park," the parks department wrote.
Pissed-off PSSA president Jason Harrison countered with his own statement. "The Ballard Bowl is a mere 80 by 55 feet, why is it causing such a clamor?" Harrison wrote. Moreover, if the bowl's so damn popular, all the more reason to keep it and build additional skate parks around town to ease the crowd, PSSA points out. AMY JENNIGES
Each year around tax time, signs advertising "instant tax refunds" or "refund anticipation loans" (RALs) start popping up in the windows of check-cashing stores and H&R Blocks. The loans, which enable borrowers to get their refund within a couple of days, benefit people "who want money as quickly as possible," according to Stephen Sprenger with H&R Block in Seattle.
Who might those people be? According to the Association of Communities for Reform Now (ACORN), which is seeking tougher local and state regulation of the loans, companies like H&R Block are profiting off the financial desperation of poor people.
According to ACORN, the fees for the loans amount to annual percentage rates from 97 percent to 2000 percent. In addition, borrowers, many of whom don't have checking accounts, may find that many banks put a seven-day hold on the checks or refuse to cash them altogether; cashing the checks on the spot sets borrowers back an additional $25, Sprenger says. ERICA C. BARNETT
Suck It Up
Is Seattle about to go through a growth spurt? It could happen in the next few years, if Seattle decides to adopt two neighborhoods that King County can't afford to keep anymore. The county currently provides services for urban unincorporated areas--like a six-square-mile area south of West Seattle called North Highline, and a three-square-mile neighborhood southeast of Rainier Beach dubbed West Hill (both mostly residential, working-class areas, with a combined population of 47,000--or, the size of Capitol Hill and Wallingford combined). Unincorporated areas, facing a potential decline in county services, have a few options: form their own city, wait for a city to try and annex them, or ask to be annexed through petition.
Anticipating that North Highline or West Hill might come knocking on Seattle's door in the next few years, the city's been crunching numbers. So far, Seattle's figured out that it could lose $5 million to $7 million a year if it annexed the areas today. But that doesn't mean the idea's off the table: "The City of Seattle is a city made up of numerous neighborhoods; these are areas that would blend into the fabric of the city," says Kenny Pittman, the city staffer analyzing annexation. He was slated to update the city council on his progress March 4. AMY JENNIGES