It took some pretty chaotic sausage-making to pull it together, but the Council cobbled together a balanced budget today.
Yesterday’s fiasco, in which the Council voted down an employee-hours tax (at least for the moment), left a draft budget with a $13 million hole in it. They regrouped overnight, looking for additional sources of revenues as well as things to cut — both from the list of appropriations attached to the proposed employee-hours tax, and from elsewhere in the budget. By 11am this morning, they had found $8 million, and pared down the proposed head-tax expenditures to match that amount.
The money mostly came from four sources:
- cutting $1.92 million in additional appropriations to SDOT planned for the end of 2017 for the Pay Stations capital project;
- a $4.3 million interfund loan to be paid back with the proceeds of the sale of the city-owned “teardrop” property along Mercer Avenue;
- cutting $922,000 in various bits and pieces from the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget;
- cutting just over a million dollars from the Mayor’s Office budget (also in bits and pieces).
These funds didn’t come without some hand-wringing. The proceeds from the “teardrop” property sale has already been verbally committed to affordable housing projects. Council member Sawant nevertheless tried to increase the loan amount to $8.3 million in order to fund other line-items that were cut overnight, but her colleagues on the Council didn’t back her on that.
The Parks and Recreation Department’s trouble concerns the voter-approved Parks property tax levy, which commits the city to spending a calculated minimum amount from the city’s general fund on parks; earlier on in the budget development process, the Council’s staff was already expressing their nervousness that they were nearing the minimum. I have an inquiry with the Council to find out how close they are after this latest round of cuts. UPDATE: Council staff let me know that the required minimum is $96 million, and the budget as it stands now would spend $107 million of general fund dollars on parks. So they have an $11 million buffer.
The Mayor’s Office cuts raised major concerns with a few of the Council members, most notably Johnson. The $1 million represents about 1/6 of the entire Mayor’s Office budget. Current Mayor Tim Burgess (and former Council budget chair) also issued a statement today chastising the Council for raiding the Mayor’s Office budget. It won’t affect him, but it will have a big effect on his successor, Jenny Durkan, who is already scrambling to put together a rapid transition given that she will be sworn in two weeks from now. I spent some time this evening researching past mayoral office budgets, and will post separately on that.
Of the items attached to the head tax revenues, the big one that didn’t survive was $3.3 million for homelessness services, including another Navigation Center, a 16-hour shelter, overnight shelters, day centers, and variety of other services for homeless people. Council member hope that if they can get a head tax passed in the spring, they can add that back into the budget sooner rather than later. The other high-profile effort that was cut is the planned expansion of the successful LEAD program to the north end of the city.
Other items of note from the rest of the budget:
- There is still $1.3 million held in reserve for creation of a safe consumption site after a feasibility study is done and accepted.
- There were two competing provisos related to “sweeps” of unsanctioned homeless encampments. Council member Herbold’s proviso carried the day; hers tries to force the city to stay strictly within the bounds of its own MDAR rules, and requires extensive weekly reporting to the Council so that they can keep track of what’s happening and have much clearer oversight on how FAS is prioritizing encampments for cleanup. Sawant once again resubmitted her proviso but it failed to garner the support of her colleagues other than O’Brien and Harris-Talley, despite impassioned speeches by Sawant, Harris-Talley, and dozens of citizen activists; hers would have limited sweeps to a narrow set of geographic areas.
- Based on his colleagues’ commitment today to move forward in the next 90 days on a head tax, O’Brien pushed through an appropriation of $100,000 to allow FAS to begin planning implementation of the systems they need to administer the tax. The intent is to ensure that the tax could still go into effect as of January 1, 2019.
- Several Council members doubled down on HSD. They voted down Juarez’s attempt to move the funding and contract administration responsibility for the LEAD program from HSD to SPD (despite the fact that SPD is an active partner in the program and HSD’s responsibilities are only for contract administration). The Council also voted to move responsibility for coordinating the city’s homeless response from FAS to HSD, in order to make it more “person centered” rather than project-management focused. They did this despite that fact that the directors of both HSD and FAS begged the Council not to do so.
- And yet, they took issue with the HMIS scan card system that HSD is developing in order to make their outreach and service provision to homeless people more person-centered. O’Brien, Sawant and Harris-Talley raised privacy concerns, despite assurances that it is compliant with HIPAA standards and that HSD is running the program through the council’s new surveillance-technology review program before deploying it.
- O’Brien has been pushing for the city to develop and outreach and support strategy for homeless people living in vehicles around the city. Funds to advance that effort survived, but O’Brien believes that such a program will depend on the LEAD program expansion to be complete first. He championed redirecting $750,000 from the vehicle residents program to fund LEAD expansion.
There are a few loose ends which will get wrapped up Monday morning at the final budget meeting. Then Monday afternoon the Council will formally adopt the 2018 budget and send it to the Mayor for his signature.
I hope you find these posts valuable. Many of them take hours of painstaking research to pull together. If you enjoy reading this I would encourage you to support my work by making a contribution at my Patreon site. Thanks!