October 9, 2008 By Bill Schrier
Seattle - like most cities and counties - is now deep in the middle of its 2009 budget process. A looming recession, the housing crisis, decreasing revenues and increasing demands for City services are all colliding to strain a $878 million general fund budget. Faced with the need for "feet on the street" - cops, firefighters, clean parks, and human services - how will needs for maintaining and improving the City's technology fare in this looming budget earthquake?
Luckily, Mayor Nickels, Dwight Dively (the City's CFO) and their senior staff understand the need for investment in technology to support the "feet on the street". Oh, you won't hear a single reference to technology in the Mayor's budget speech on Monday, September 29th (if you missed it, view it here). The Mayor talked about issues such as public safety - continuing to add police officers to bring the department from 1,241 sworn officers in 2003 to 1,360 in 2010. He discussed significant increases in emergency shelter, food and library collections. In 2009, Seattle will spend more money to create affordable housing than every other City in the State, combined. There's $9 million to combat youth and gang violence.
While there was not a word about technology in the budget speech, there is a lot of action for technology in the budget itself. Seattle's elected officials know their "on the street" budget priorities will require technology to be successful, and here are a few examples.
It's one thing to add more cops, but each cop will require voice radios, laptop computers and digital video systems in cars, and this budget provides for those.
Seattle has one of the highest bond ratings of any City in the nation, but that requires a smooth-functioning financial management system. This budget provides for new high-speed computer server and high-end data storage system to run that financial management system and hold data for it and for other priority functions such as customer service and utility billing.
Customer service is a top priority for the Mayor - making sure Seattle's people receive good service and fast response to requests and complaints. Mayor Nickels has recently implemented a customer service "Bill of Rights". This budget supports these initiatives by providing for Constituent Relationship Management system software (CRM). We also will implement a modern electronic mail system (Exchange/Outlook) and other technology which will speed service requests and problem reports from customers to City employees who can rapidly respond.
As in most budgets and most companies, the bulk of the budget is not for new projects and initiatives, but rather for carrying on the normal business of City government. So my department's $58.6 million budget provides $2 million to support the City website www.seattle.gov which won the "Best Municipal Web Portal" award from the Center for Digital Government in 2001 and 2006, $2.4 million to support a public safety radio network of over 5,000 radios which is up 99.999% of the time, and $3.4 million to support the top municipal TV channel in the nation, the Seattle Channel. There is money for more commonplace functions like $1.4 million for a help desk, $10 million for an extensive telephone network, and even $700,000 for the technology leadership office (that's the Chief Technology Officer - me - and my leadership team!).
There are a few hidden gems in this budget too - like connecting every elementary school in the City with high speed fiber optic cable (the school system pays for it but my department does the work). With some luck, I'll be able to blog about these "run-of-the-mill" projects over the next year.
Is it a lot of money? Yes.
Does it help make the City of Seattle efficient, effective and safe? Damned right it does.
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.