New Department of Neighborhoods head talks budget cuts and possible department consolidation
Bernie Matsuno, acting Director of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, visited the Ballard District Council on Wednesday, June 13 to talk about the diminishing city resources and the future of her post and the Department of Neighborhoods.
Matsuno was appointed to her post by Mayor Mike McGinn earlier this year. She has worked for the Department of Neighborhoods since 1989, previously serving as a project manager for Seattle’s well-known Neighborhood Matching Fund program. She came back from retirement after McGinn asked her to step in as acting director and now, as the permanent director.
"I thought about [the permanent position] long and hard," she said.
"I knew last year was particularly hard. We had unprecedented budget cuts and we're looking at more cuts. I care about the department (of neighborhoods) and I care about the opportunity to advocate for the department and the communities and what they want of the department. That's what convinced me."
Matsuno said while she enjoys the work, it hasn't been easy.
"We're looking at more budget cuts and I'm trying desperately to hang on to what we have. There are fewer resources so we're going to be doing things differently," she said.
Matsuno said people and resources are stretched thin and the department is going to have to start saying 'We just can't get to it right now'.
Matsuno is fighting hard to keep some projects she cares most about including the Neighborhood Matching Fund program, Historic Preservation, and the P-Patch program.
"I'd like to keep these programs alive," she said. "Right now we have people on the waiting list for the P-Patch program and we'll shortly be running out of space in the city. We have 72 gardens right now and with help from the park levy, we're adding 15 new gardens. I still fear that it's not enough to satisfy the need."
"We've cut around the corners but when we have to cut more, it's going to be significant. I struggle with what we give up, what we do less of," Matsuno said.
Matsuno said she's looking into partnerships with Seattle City Light to start charging fees-for-service for DoN outreach services.
"It seems a logical partnership for us," she said. "I've put a proposal in front of the mayor. He likes it."
Mastuno also gave an update about the possible consolidation of departments.
The city is considering consolidating five city departments as a cost-cutting measure. The five departments would be the departments of Neighborhoods, Economic Development, Housing, Arts and Cultural Affairs, Sustainability and Environment.
Department heads came together to study the possible options and came up with two extremes and various hybrids, Matsuno said.
"The two extremes were consolidating all these departments into one big organization The other extreme was keeping everything the way it is," she said.
"The going was tough. It's hard to see how joining forces with other departments is going to deliver better services. The mayor has options for him to consider."
Mastuno alluded that the question of consolidation may be paused and revisited sometime down the road.
Matsuno has one more public hearing before she is confirmed as the permanent director of DoN.
This public hearing takes place July 26 at 2 p.m. at the Seattle City Council Chambers.
For more information about the Department of Neighborhoods, visit www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/