Last week the City Council had its first round of discussions on concrete proposals to amend Mayor Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget. While we have to wait until November 10 to find out which of those proposals will move forward, there were enough clues in last week’s discussion to give us a good idea — and to tell us how the Council members are addressing big topics such as defunding SPD, investing in the BIPOC community, and addressing homelessness.
Also, today the City Budget Office gave the Council some good news: revenues are coming in higher than earlier estimates.
Council members didn’t formally vote on each other’s budget proposals in last week’s meetings, but they did indicate which ones they were willing to “co-sponsor,” i.e. designate as a priority. A proposal needed a primary sponsor and two co-sponsors as a bare minimum in order to get discussed, but after discussion other Council members had a chance to sign on as additional co-sponsors, so by the end of the discussions each of the proposals had anywhere from three to eight Council members backing it. Budget chair Mosqueda mostly declined from co-sponsoring proposals, in order to maintain a perception of objectivity at this point — though the decision as to what going into the balancing package is entirely hers.
Here are the proposals that earned the most support and are most likely to advance on:
Seattle Police Department
In a surprise to absolutely no one, the Council proposed several amendments related to SPD’s budget, generally in two buckets: generally reducing the size of the department, and transferring units to a newly-created Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC).
- clawing back $6.1 million in salary savings for vacant positions;
- reducing the overtime budget by $3.7 million;
- $5 million in savings from unplanned attrition (attrition spiked in September, and many expect it to stay that way);
- following through on the Council’s 2020 directive this past summer by laying off another 35 sworn officers (but setting aside the salary dollars in case it takes longer than expected due to collective bargaining);
- abrogating 70 FTE positions to prevent SPD from moving money around and re-filling open positions.
Creating the new CSCC:
- establishing the new department;
- moving parking enforcement officers, the 911 call center, and the Community Service Officers out of SPD into the CSCC;
- moving the Office of Emergency Management out of SPD into its own budget department (though not into the CSCC as the Mayor had proposed);
- stating the Council’s intent to dedicate all budget savings from SPD cuts toward investments in BIPOC communities and into community safety programs outside of SPD.
Likely changes include:
- Restoring $1 million for the Office of Civil Rights, to continue its work creating alternatives to the criminal justice system;
- Restoring $30 million of funding for the Mayor’s Strategic Investment Fund in underserved communities. This was originally one-time funding in the 202 budget, funded by the sale proceeds of the Mercer Megablock; but Mayor Durkan cut it late this year to balance the budget amidst ongoing revenue shortfalls.
- Cutting $10 million from the Mayor’s $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative, to cover $10 million of investments in BIPOC communities that the Council promised. This has been an ongoing back-and-forth between the Council and the Mayor this year; the Council proposed $14 million in the rebalanced 2020 budget, mostly funded by an interfund loan; the Mayor vetoed it, and the Council overrode the veto. But the Council can’t force the Mayor to spend the money, and Mayor Durkan let the Council know that she would spend $4 million in the few remaining months this year but commit to spending the other $10 million in 2021. Durkan refused to do the interfund loan, however, and ended up submitting a 2021 budget to the Council that was about $10 million out of balance — leaving it to the Council to find the money. And now they have, by taking it out of the Mayor’s proposed ECI fund. What’s surprising at this point is that the Council hasn’t proposed to take more than $10 million out of the ECI fund — yet.
This whole area is a bit awkward, since 2021 is the year that the new regional homeless authority is supposed to be stood up and decisions about specific investments will move over to it instead of being made by the Mayor and Council. but that process has been delayed due to slowdowns in hiring a CEO, so in the meantime the Council is continuing to do its own thing.
Likely changes it will make:
- Funding a replacement for the Navigation Team, with a revised mission. Council member Morales is leading the negotiations with the Mayor’s Office on this, with Council member Lewis in a supporting role — which is awkward given that Lewis chairs the Council’s homelessness committee, and negotiated the agreement with the Mayor for funding a replacement team through the end of 2020. The heart of the mission for the new team (which Morales has dubbed the HOPE Team), is providing support for third-party outreach providers and coordinating city services, but not doing direct outreach in the field itself. The negotiations are ongoing, so expect further refinements here.
- Several Council members are attempting to earmark portions of the homeless outreach budget specifically for their district, including West Seattle and South Park; Columbia City and Rainier Beach; North Seattle; and Ballard. On one hand, this could be seen as the district-based Council position model working as designed; on the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for the city’s approach to homeless outreach when the Council starts mandating how funds will be divided up across geographic boundaries.
- Adding another $286,000 to SPU’s “purple bag program” of picking up trash at homeless encampments, to allow the program to expand to more locations.
- Adding $1 million to increase funding for the city’s mobile crisis teams.
- Adding $1.65 million for a temporary tiny home village in the University District.
- Adding $1 million to continue the city’s use of City Hall as an emergency overnight shelter.
- Adding $400,000 to prevention programs for families with school-age children.
- Adding $34,000 to fully fund the Housing Connector program, which brokers between homeless individuals and landlords.
Seattle Fire Department
- Adding $337,000 to expand the successful Health One mobile response unit program.
- Adding $383,000 for equipment.
- Restoring $1.6 million to restore a recruiting class and testing of potential new recruits in 2021.
- Adding $140,000 to add a consulting nurse for SFD’s 911 call center.
- Adding $150,000 for a crisis counselor.
The 2021 SDOT budget is a bit up in the air, as the outcome of tomorrow’s vote on renewing the Seattle Transportation Benefit District will have a large effect on what gets funded. Currently the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget assumes that the TBD won’t be renewed, so if it passes then the Council will have a windfall of funds to spend on transportation projects. They certainly have no shortage of proposals — many earmarked for their own district — but so far the Council is being fairly cautious about commitments. Likely changes:
- $1 million for transit improvements to the Metro Route 44 corridor between Ballard and Husky Stadium.
- Some amount of increased funding for bridge maintenance, though perhaps not the full $24 million that transportation committee chair Alex Pedersen is asking for.
Here are some of the other items likely to move forward:
- Restoring $2.13 million across the city budget to prevent layoffs of city workers.
- Restoring $1.4 million for the Council’s latest attempt to create supervised injection sites. This time, the proposal is to fund existing service providers to add the service rather than try to set up an entirely new site.
- Adding $1.4 million for a legal defense fund for immigrants.
- Adding $132,000 for a staff person for the Green New Deal (including the oversight board), and $140,000 for a climate policy advisor.
- Adding $1.8 million to the Fresh Bucks program, which is currently oversubscribed.
- Adding $500,000 for tenant outreach and support services.
- Adding $550,000 to the Department of Education and Early Learning for programs for black girls and young women.
There were a number of items with borderline-majority support that might also make the cut, and it’s possible that some of the above item’s won’t; we’ll learn more next Tuesday when the balancing package is released. After that, the Council members will take one more shot at building support for their favorite proposals before they wrap up the budget at the end of the month.
In other news, today the City Budget Office released its November revenue project update, timed to give the Council the best information possible on revenues as it writes next year’s budget.
And it’s good news: 2020 General Fund revenues are now expected to come in $36 million higher, and 2021 General Fund revenues are projected to be $32.5 million higher. Much of that increase is sales taxes, though it’s partially offset in 2021 by lower parking revenues.
However, some of the other revenue sources for the city have been adjusted down, including AirBnB tax revenues, the commercial parking tax, and the school zone camera fund revenues. Put together, the Council will have $29.4 million in 2020 revenues to spend (which will likely carry over to 2021), and $12.2 million more next year.
Also, the current Transportation Benefit District, which expires at the end of the year, will pull in an additional $2.3 million in sales tax revenues. And Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) revenues are also coming in $12.7 million higher in 2020 and are expected to be $2.9 million higher next year — though REET is known to be volatile and unpredictable, since every time an officer tower downtown changes hands it results in a big REET payment.
In a press release this evening, budget chair Mosqueda said that she is “cautiously optimistic.”
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