What to look for in Friday’s budget proposal discussions

Tomorrow the Council wraps up its first round of deliberations on Council members’ proposals for changes to the 2020 budget. It’s a long agenda, with 77 items touching human services, homelessness, transportation and the police, so expect some tough discussions. Here are some topics to look out for.

  1. Human services compensation. Council member Sawant is proposing to pay $600,000 to the Seattle Human Services Coalition for “a study on the value of human services work.” What that really means is “what is fair compensation for human services work.”  Human services workers get terrible pay, and many of them live on the edge of needing the same services they offer to other Seattle residents. But there are two problems with this proposal: first, $600,000 is a lot to pay for this kind of compensation study. Second, the Seattle Human Services Coalition actively lobbies the city and county for more funding to providers and for better compensation for those providers’ employees. So we already know what its study report will say. There are plenty of consultants out there that the city can pay to do this kind of work and have no vested interest in the outcome.
  2. A new meth treatment program. Council member O’Brien proposes to spend $500,000 to study a new treatment program for methamphetamine addiction. Notably, however, O’Brien’s proposal doesn’t include the kind of proviso that the Council members like to slap on Mayor Durkan’s experimental programs to freeze the money until an implementation plan is published.
  3.  An outreach program for street sex workers and drug users. Council member Mosqueda proposes granting the Green Light Project $280,000 for harm reduction and outreach services to sex workers and drug users.
  4. Fully funding LEAD. Council members Sawant, Gonzalez and O’Brien submitted identical proposals to fully fund the LEAD program by increasing its budget by $4.7 million. Council member Bagshaw, noting that the LEAD team believes it can raise some of the needed funds from private sources, proposes increasing its budget by $3.5 million.
  5.  One or more tiny home villages. Council member Mosqueda proposes allocating an additional $90,000 to open one new “tiny home” village for 40 households, in an as-yet-undetermined location.  Council member Sawant, on the other hand, proposes allocating $12 million to support up to 20 tiny home villages; her proposal would redirect $1.2 million currently allocated for relocating the residents of the Georgetown and Northlake villages(the permits for those villages expire in March), and would add another $10.8 million from an unspecified source.
  6.  Either increase the Navigation Team, or eliminate it. Council member Juarez has proposed adding two new members to the Navigation Team to focus on North Seattle at a cost of $254,000, while Council member Sawant has proposed eliminating the Navigation Team entirely.
  7.  An overnight  “safe lot.”  Council member Pacheco has proposed $158,000 in funding for an overnight-only “safe lot” for individuals living in their vehicles, at the University Heights Center.
  8. Mobile restrooms. Council members Herbold and Sawant each submitted a proposal to spend $1.28 million to acquire and staff five mobile restrooms to serve the homeless population.
  9. Micromanaging SDOT. The Council members have thoughts on which transportation projects should — and should not — be priorities, and they are willing to use the power of the purse to get their way. Council membe O’Brien proposes to ringfence $1 million of SDOT’s maintenance operations budget solely for bike lane maintenance. He also proposes redirecting $2.5 million of Mercer Megablock sale proceeds to the protected bike lane capital improvement project, and adding a proviso restricting $10,850,000 for three specific projects. Council member Herbold has proposed a restriction on SDOT’s capital budget so that no funds may be spent on the Center City Connector streetcar project until SDOT submits to the Council an operations plan and a contingency plan in case it doesn’t receive the $75 million of federal funding it is in line for. She also proposes a proviso on the RapidRide H line funding for anything beyond design work until the Council has a chance to review the design once it is complete. Council member Bagshaw proposes allocating $2 million for the redesign of Thomas Street. Council member Pacheco proposes adding $1 million to continue the Waterfront Shuttle, which was originally funded by WSDOT as mitigation for the Alaskan Way Viaduct removal. He also proposes adding $1.4 million to build 3,000 multimodal parking spaces for free-floating bike and scooter share.
  10. Free transit!  Council member Sawant proposes that SDOT develop a plan and budget proposal to make all transit in Seattle fare-free.
  11. Cuts at SPD. Council member Sawant proposes three major cuts in SPD’s budget: the hiring incentive bonus program ($814,000), the added emphasis patrols; new officer recruitment and retention programs ($1.66 million); and increased “emphasis patrols” ($848,000). Sawant would redirect the funds to unspecified “other priorities.”
  12.  Emphasis patrols in the University District. Council member Pacheco has, on several occasions, expressed discontent that the Mayor’s increased neighborhood “emphasis patrols” have not included the University District. He notes that particularly with a new light rail station coming online in just over a year, it’s critical that the area feel safe for people to travel through. He proposes to restrict $100,000 of the Mayor’s budget line-item for emphasis patrols to be specifically for the University District. Don’t expect the other six district-based Council members to think highly of this plan (though Juarez has made similar efforts to proviso a portion of city-wide resources to her district).
  13.  SPD officer training on sex workers. In response to SPD’s recent increase in arrests of sex workers, and SPD leadership’s tone-deaf justification, Council members Mosqueda and Gonzalez have each proposed that $200,000 of SPD’s training budget be targeted specifically for training around “the various needs of individuals involved in the sex trade.”

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  1. Your characterization of the proposed budget item regarding comparable worth analysis is inaccurate. Then you go on to suggest self-dealing on the part of the Seattle Human Services Coalition. Please review the proposal, which requests a comparable worth analysis to be conducted by an independent entity and includes a modest and reasonable amount for SHSC to leverage its membership, sector knowledge, and capacity to ensure robust participation and information gathering for the analysis. You seem determined to suggest that the study has a pre-ordained conclusion. What is your evidence? The attempt to gather accurate, sector-wide, and relevant information to inform a rational policy is an honest one. Those of us who want to address the critical issues that result from the pathetically low pay and poor benefits for workers who help children, elders, young people, those who have no homes, survivors of domestic violence, etc. know we need good data to build our case. You are incorrectly characterizing the proposal, and suggesting that those who are trying to solve problems with sound information are somehow at fault. I hope you will correct immediately.

    1. Alison, I don’t suggest self-dealing on the part of the SHSC. I suggest that as a lobbyist for more funding for human services and better pay (which I am delighted that you do), SHSC has a conflict of interest and is not in a position to provide an objective analysis of the value of human services work and proper compensation for it. The city absolutely needs such a study, but it should not be asking SHSC to do it; it should be asking a consultant with expertise in NGOs, labor and compensation to do a proper analysis, and as part of that to reach out to stakeholders such as SHSC for critical input.

      I value the SHSC and the difficult, thankless work of the city’s human services providers. I want to see more funding for human services, and better pay for your workers. And I want the city to have an objective study to support that outcome that is beyond reproach.

      1. We appreciate your support for our work, Kevin, but it was never our intent that SHSC actually conduct the study. Our recommendation has always been that Seattle hire a consultant to do the work. We would appreciate it if you would correct the original post.

        1. SHCS subcontracting the work to a consultant doesn’t resolve the conflict of interest if the consultant reports to you. I support a qualified consultant doing the study, but HSD needs to contract for it directly.

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