With the daunting news that they need to cut about $27 million from the mayor's proposed $654 million budget, city council members are going over city expenditures line by line. After finding out how much money was being spent on outside consulting contracts, Council Member Judy Nicastro thinks she's found some cuts.

"It's always the flutists and 'To Be Determined' that take the first budget hits," Nicastro says, referring to some curious budget items regarding outside consultants.

In a report presented at the council's October 18 budget retreat, city staffer Christa Clark gave a basic account: In 2001, the city spent approximately $3.5 million on outside consulting contracts from its general fund; the Department of Construction and Land Use (DCLU), the Department of Transportation (SeaTran), and the Strategic Planning Office (SPO) spent the most on outside consultants, with a combined total of $2.5 million.

Nicastro staffer Jill Berkey flagged a few line items from the freewheeling departments. Over at SeaTran, which had $735,635 earmarked for outside consultants, there's a $7,870 consultant expenditure for "Development and Communication of Safeco Field Vendor Policies" and a $111,560 expenditure for "Street Use Process Review & Analysis."

"Isn't street use review what SeaTran is paid to do in-house?" Berkey asks. (As to the Safeco vendor item, Berkey was stumped: "SeaTran? Hot dogs? I don't get it.") SeaTran spokeswoman Liz Rankin says the $111,560 contract paid a consultant to guide differing interest groups through permitting process discussions.

Berkey also wondered about the Department of Neighborhood's $14,000 P-Patch Advisory Council expenditure and three SPO's expenditures, totaling $106,200, on Seattle Public Schools (the city doesn't administer the school districts). And then there's that $100,000 SPO "To Be Determined" consultant cost.

"I'm flagging consulting," Nicastro says seriously, "because if we have to lay people off and cut programs, the first place we need to look is at outside consultants--for work that can be done in-house with full-time working people."

The Stranger has filed a public records request to find out how much the city has spent on outside consultants in years past.

josh@thestranger.com

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