This afternoon, Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda rolled out her “balancing package,” a collection of changes to the Mayor’s 2021 proposed budget that address Council members’ consensus priorities, while keeping the overall budget balanced as required by law.
The package follows through with the cuts to SPD they proposed two weeks ago, and it cuts Mayor’s Durkan’s $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative down to $30 million. Shortly after it was released, Durkan issued a press release… largely praising it.
Wait, what was that again?
You can find the full list of items in the balancing package here, in the agenda for tomorrow’s Budget Committee meeting where they will walk through it all.
In addition to the long list of earmarks for specific Council members, there are some larger topics that are addressed in the budget package.
Last week brought a lot of good news for the Council, including an updated revenue forecast with increased projected revenues in both 2020 and 2021; plus the passage of Proposition 1, which will add $24.8 million of transportation funding to next year’s budget.
In fact, Mosqueda even had enough money to add $35 million back into the city’s reserve funds after the Mayor’s budget proposed to drain them down to about $3 million next year.
BIPOC community and community safety investments
The budget process began with competing efforts to fund community investments: Durkan proposed a budget with $100 million in an Equitable Communities Initiative (ECI) to be disbursed based on recommendations from a task force she hand-picked. The Council, however, had promised an unspecified amount of money to be handed out through a participatory budgeting process.
But the 2020 budget left some messy, unfinished business. Durkan had committed $30 million of Mercer Megablock sale proceeds this year to a Strategic Investment Fund for underserved communities, but her proposed budget revisions for the rest of this year dropped that and repurposed the money to balance the revenue shortfall from the COVID recession. Also, the Council allocated $13 million mid-year for initial investments in community-based safety programs, but after the budget-rebalancing smoke cleared the Mayor committed to only spend $3 million this year and pushed the other $10 million into 2021 — if the Council could find a funding source (the Council had authorized an inter-fund loan, but the Mayor refused to enact it).
The Mayor also cut $1.05 million for investments in alternatives to the criminal legal system, and $550,000 for a restorative justice pilot program.
In response, Mosqueda’s budget packages takes $70 million out of Mayor Durkan’s ECI initiative:
- $10.4 million goes to the city’s emergency reserve funds;
- $30 million restores the funding for the Strategic Investment Fund;
- $18 million transfers over to the Council’s participatory budgeting effort and is paired with $12 million from other sources for a total of $30 million;
- $10 million funds the community-based safety program investments that the Council committed to this year but the Mayor pushed out to 2021 without funding;
- The $1.05 million for alternatives to the criminal legal system and $550,000 for a restorative justice pilot program have their funding restored.
In addition, the Council slapped a proviso on the $30 million remaining in the Mayor’s ECI:
“Of the appropriation in the 2021 budget for Finance General Reserves, $30,000,000 is appropriated solely to fund the Equitable Communities Initiative and actions recommended to the City by the Equitable Communities Task Force and may be spent for no other purpose. Furthermore, none of the money so appropriated may be spent until authorized by future ordinance. The Council anticipates that such authority will not be granted until the Executive submits to the Council a plan for spending the funds that describes how the allocations were informed by and reflect alignment between recommendations from the Task Force and the Participatory Budgeting process’s recommendations.”
The generous interpretation of this situation is that the two competing efforts from the Mayor and Council are now equally funded at $30 million each, and the Council is pushing to ensure that their goals and outcomes are aligned so that community organizations are not pitted against each other and they don’t end up with recommendations that are duplicative or out of harmony with each other. And while Mosqueda hinted today that there may be ongoing discussions on how to merge the two efforts, at the moment they are still separate and running on independent timelines. The Council’s proviso, if read literally, means that the Mayor’s task force won’t be able to recommend any investments that aren’t aligned with the participatory budgeting process results — and could be force to wait some time for those results to come into being before it can even issue its own recommendations. In a press briefing this afternoon Mosqueda said that she didn’t believe the language required the participatory budgeting process to be finished first, and emphasized that she expected the two processes to be on similar timelines.
Surprisingly, Mayor Durkan’s press release this afternoon said nice things about the Council’s proposed changes:
“One of my most important priorities in this budget was to transform how the City invests in communities of color by centering the experiences of Black and Indigenous communities. Even in this difficult year, my budget set aside historic resources to meet the challenges of this moment and move us toward being the city we want to be when we come out of this crisis: stronger, more just, and more equitable. The Council’s amendments continue that historic $100 million for communities through slightly different community-led processes. As Council hears additional input from community members, I look forward to working with Council on these investments, and I hope Council will consider additional investments beyond the $100 million that reflect the $57 million in new revenue and proposed reductions to SPD. We must make significant investments in community over a period of years to build true elements of community safety, such as healthy neighborhoods, investments in education, access to housing and health care, community wealth building, and economic opportunity.
Why is Durkan being so nice about having her signature program gutted? Perhaps in part it’s because of the next major topic in the budget:
SPD and Community Safety
Two weeks ago the Council members were discussing a number of options to cut the size (and budget) of SPD, and the balancing package reflects much of that. The cuts fell largely into two buckets: moving some civilian units out of the department, and clawing back unspent dollars and headcount that were the results of a combination of higher than expected attrition and a small number of “out of order” layoffs.
The balancing package follows through on much of that. It creates a new Community Safety and Communications Center department, and moves SPD’s 911 call center and the Parking Enforcement Officers unit into it — though the PEOs don’t move until around June because of expected collective bargaining, and one more unit, the Community Service Officers, are no longer transferring out of SPD (at least for the moment – Mosqueda said “On the CSOs there were a few questions about access to amenities they currently have at SPD. I think it can be worked on but not all those questions were answered”). This is almost exactly what Mayor Durkan proposed in her 2021 budget — though the PEOs transferred to SDOT, and the 911 call center moved into a new department with the Office of Emergency Management (which is still getting its own department outside of SPD). So the Council shuffled the pieces around a bit, but the effect on SPD is the same.
The Council’s effort to recapture attrition savings is beyond what the Mayor proposed in her budget — essentially recapturing everything that wouldn’t get spent because of attrition and abrogating vacant positions so that SPD has no ability to re-fill any of them. Altogether, however, it’s a cut of about 20% for SPD’s budget, far short of the 50% cut that some community members and activists have been clamoring for. Most of it was going to happen anyway because of attrition and SPD’s limited ability to attract new recruits at the moment, and the additional 35-position layoff that the Council is demanding is small potatoes for SPD. So while it’s probably inaccurate to say that Durkan “won” in her fight to keep SPD whole, she didn’t lose either. Here is what she had to say in her press release:
“Seattle is leading major cities across the country with some of the most significant and innovative reductions and changes to our police department. We put forward a plan and budget that seeks to ensure SPD has enough officers to meet 911 response and investigative needs throughout the city, while acknowledging and addressing the disproportionate impacts policing has had on communities of color, particularly Black communities.
“This summer and fall, I proposed thoughtful reductions to the Seattle Police Department that coincide with increased and continued investments in alternatives to sworn officers including Health One, mental health professionals, and Community Service Officers. As we invest further in civilian public safety alternatives, I continue to have concerns about our increased rate of sworn officer attrition and its impacts on public safety and the Consent Decree. We must work together to ensure our police force is diverse and committed to community-based, constitutional policing.
“This summer, there were significant disagreements between me and the City Council on whether they should cut SPD by 50 percent without a plan to both ensure an effective and constitutional police response and robust alternative community-based solutions. With these budget amendments, I’m optimistic that we’ve turned a corner and can make collaborative, data-driven decisions that advance our shared policy goals, including making significant investments in community.”
Putting the community investments and the cuts to SPD together, we see that the Council and the Mayor seem to have found an acceptable, if somewhat uneasy, middle ground: the Council got most of what it wanted on community investments, and the Mayor got most of what she wanted on SPD — at least for 2021. Even if more cuts to SPD come in 2022 — and they very likely will — the community investments will have come first, and there is a much higher likelihood that community organizations will be in a better position to pick up responsibilities for crisis response and community safety that are moved out of SPD.
Climate Change and the Green New Deal
A couple of the environmental-related investments that the previous City Council passed in 2019 have languished this year due to hiring freezes and budget cutbacks. But Mosqueda’s balancing packages restores some of them for next year, including a staff position to support the Green New Deal Oversight Board (which hasn’t even been assembled yet), a staff person for commercial building energy benchmarking and building tune-ups, and a climate policy advisor position.
Seattle Fire Department
SFD gets some specific funding, some to restore budget cuts and some to enhance existing functions. Those include:
- Funding for some much-needed equipment;
- A consulting nurse for SFD’s 911 call center, to answer some calls directly without the need to send a medical team out to the caller;
- A crisis counselor;
- restoring a recruiting class so SFD can continue to hire to fill open positions;
- Adding a third Health One unit to help deal with “low acuity” calls more cost-effectively and to spread coverage across more of the city.
Homeless response and replacing the Navigation Team
The Council is following through in 2021 on the agreement it reached with the Mayor’s Office on a replacement for the Navigation Team that doesn’t do outreach itself but instead supports third-party outreach providers and coordinates city services — with an allowance for homeless camp removals in extreme circumstances when outreach fails. The new team, dubbed the HOPE Team, will have 8 FTEs — up from 5 in the initial proposal by Council member Morales. To go along with this, the Council is making several other investments in the city’s homeless response:
- adding $1 million to increase homeless outreach services;
- adding $1 million for the mobile crisis team;
- $100,000 for the public sink program;
- $2.8 million to establish two new tiny home villages;
- $1.4 million for a temporary tiny home village in the University District on a city-owned lot while a planned affordable housing project on the site works its way through the planning and permitting process;
- $750,000 for rapid rehousing programs;
- $655,000 for expanding some basic shelters to 24-hour service;
- Adding $286,000 for expanding SPU’s trash pickup program at encampments.
Many of the Council’s changes to the SDOT budget every year are earmarks for specific projects within a Council member’s district, and this year is no different. Last week’s revenue forecast update revised up the amount of REET revenues available, and while the list of allowable uses for REET is short, transportation projects are very much included in that list so the Council had some money to spend. In the balancing package are restored funding for:
- $777,000 for the Thomas Street Redesigned project;
- $500,000 for the Metro Route 44 corridor;
- $5.2 million for the Georgetown to South Park Trail;
- $943,000 for the Route 7 corridor.
Additionally there is $400,000 added to the SDOT budget for protected bike lanes. There is also $4 million of one-time funds for additional bridge maintenance, which barely scratches the surface of the enormous backlog of deferred maintenance on Seattle’s bridges and doesn’t do anything to prevent the city from getting even further behind in coming years.
Without trying to provide an exhaustive list of everything in the balancing package, here are a few more notable items:
- efforts to avoid “austerity budgeting” by restoring funding for some city positions eliminated through budget cuts, as well as compensating for reduced revenues from the Commercial Parking Tax and the School Zone Camera program;
- $1.8 million for the Fresh Bucks program to eliminate the current waiting list for the program;
- funding for programs to address Black girls and young women and Black queer and trans youth; and to increase services at agencies specializing in American Indian and Alaska native populations;
- $1.12 million (money that’s been sitting on the books unspent for years) for “safe consumption” services in existing service provider facilities, rather than trying to set up a new safe consumption site;
- $500,000 for tenant outreach and services.
There’s much to like in this budget balancing package. There’s nothing too outlandish in it; some modest cuts to SPD that mostly recognize the reality of its staffing levels coming out of 2020; and some big up-front investments in community-based programs that will hopefully position the city well to make some thoughtful, substantive and timely changes to policing in 2022. The homelessness investments are generally good things, though they are still mild in comparison with the size of the homeless crisis in the city. To the extent that there is money available, the Council is attempting to avoid the worst effects of “austerity budgeting” in the hopes that it will allow the city to rebound faster from the COVID-19 economic downturn.
But perhaps best of all, the Mayor and the City Council seem to have turned a corner and are finding ways to compromise and work together again — or at the very least, to stop further escalating their conflict. Mayor Durkan sent signals today that (barring last-minute dramatic changes) she won’t veto the Council’s changes to her proposed budget, after sending the Council a letter last week suggesting several of the uses for the new revenues that the balancing package follows through on (such as restoring the Strategic Investment Fund, eliminating budget-driven layoffs, and covering the $10 million of community safety investments). That’s surely a welcome sign for a city facing multiple emergencies and wanting City Hall to start functioning again. It might just be a collective sigh of relief after last week’s election; still, we’ll take it.
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