After taking on major initiatives like universal Pre-K and housing affordability, Mayor Ed Murray set a more restrained and “efficient” course for the City of Seattle during his 2017-2018 budget presentation at City Council Monday afternoon. That still didn’t keep dozens of protestors from chanting against the mayor’s police spending priorities just outside the council chambers.
Since the Great Recession, the city has amassed $35 million per year in construction fees, which Murray called out as a precarious financial situation. Projecting the rapid pace of construction will begin to slow in 2017, the mayor said his budget avoids making too many major longterm investments and puts money into the city’s rainy day funds.
“If 2014 was the year of the minimum wage, 2015 the year of housing affordability, and 2016 is the year of education, it is my intention to make 2017 the year of good governance,” he said.
Even so, Murray set a wide range of priorities with impacts on Capitol Hill. The proposed budget, which will be reviewed and amended by City Council in the coming weeks, allocates an additional $12 million to address homelessness in the city. Murray proposed funding a previously announced new one-stop-shop shelter and service center, increasing outreach to encampments, and maintaining existing shelter capacity.
Murray’s speech included one mention of his home neighborhood of Capitol Hill in relation to the Center City Connector. Funding for the streetcar line which will eventually connect the First Hill Streetcar to the South Lake Union Streetcar. Funding for the Pedestrian and Bike Master Plans will make strides towards the city’s goal of zero pedestrian deaths, Murray said. The Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, which is on its way to starting a major upgrade, will also be eligible for new cultural institution funds in 2017.
On a broader scale, Murray attempted to address institutional racism in the city, invoking the recent police killings of black men in Tulsa and Charlotte.”We, the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of structural inequality, must recognize our privilege and work with others to construct a more just society. Black lives matter,” he said.
Controversy over the address was bubbling even before Murray took the podium. Dozens of people who said they had been waiting for hours to get inside the chamber to hear the speech were forced to watch the address on a TV in a hallway. Many were there to show opposition to Murray’s on-hold plans to replace the aging North Precinct with a new $149 million facility.
District 3 rep Kshama Sawant made a motion to open the chamber in order to allow more people in, but the council voted it down. After Murray’s address, members of Socialist Alternative railed against the budget during public comment, focusing largely on the plans for the North Precinct and lack of spending on homelessness.
Sawant also called out the restriction of attendees and the mayor’s funding priorities in a statement released after his speech. “The Mayor’s speech contained many sentiments I agree with about ending homelessness and ridding Seattle of the insidious racial, economic, and gender divide,” she said. “But once again, his actual proposal is a mostly business-as-usual, status quo budget that will do little to address the massive inequality in Seattle.”
The $12 million Murray proposed to address homelessness is meant to begin the implementation of his recently released plan called Pathways Home. The allocation is funded through a combination of new general fund dollars, additional revenue from the housing levy reserved for homelessness spending, and a continuation of funding approved under the 2015 State of Emergency.
- Create Capacity for Unsheltered Families (~$1 M)
Provide diversion and motel vouchers to address one-time needs to quickly divert families from shelters.
Increase rapid rehousing resources to stabilize families with housing vouchers.
Expand access to housing and case management for victims of domestic violence and sexual exploitation.
- Best Practices in Homeless Services ($5M)
Support creation of a new Navigation Center, a low-barrier, 24-hour shelter.
Continue SOE investments for rapid rehousing and diversion for single adults.
Continue operation of new mobile medical van.
- Support System Transformation ($1.1M)
Enhance Coordinated Entry System with King County partners.
Create Housing Resource Center to provide targeted assistance in finding housing.
Increase capacity to track and use data to improve outcomes.
- Maintain Shelter System Capacity ($2.1M)
Maintain shelter beds added as part of State of Emergency.
Support faith-based partnership to expand shelter capacity.
- Response to Encampments ($2.8M)
Improve coordination and outreach, increase housing options, address public health and safety and storage of belongings.
Earlier this month two consultant reports recommended that the city should dramatically shift how it spends some $50 million in annual homeless prevention funding to a so-called “housing first” strategy.
Murray and members of the City Council were at odds with the city’s homelessness consultant when it came to encampments, which the consultant opposed. Murray’s budget solidifies the city’s support of encampments, for now, by providing $2.1 million to “maintain stability” at encampments and shelters.
In addition to bolstering programs that focus on housing people before providing additional services, Murray’s plan calls for the city to prioritize services towards those who have been homeless the longest, improve rapid re-housing programs to get recently homeless people into available market-rate housing, and require service providers to use a common database to better connect people to housing.
27% of the 911 calls received by SFD in 2015 were found to pose no immediate risk to a person’s health or property. Murray has proposed extending funding for a program enacted in 2016 that provides outreach to high-frequency, low-risk 911 callers. The budget also commits to increased staffing at Seattle’s 911 service centers and $2.5 million to bolster Seattle Fire recruitment.
Murray’s has previously called for adding 200 police officers above 2013 levels by 2020. His 2017-2018 budget puts the department on track to meet those levels by funding 72 new hires in the next two years.
After investing in police body cameras last year, Murray’s 2017 budget would fund the infrastructure to process and store the immense amount of data they produce. During his speech Murray said he will release a proposal in the coming weeks for a new office of police accountability wth civilian oversight.
Changes could be on the way for Capitol Hill-area community centers. Murray’s budget include $1.3 million to eliminate drop-in fees and expand free programming at five community centers, including Garfield Community Center.
Capitol Hill’s Miller Community Center would also see extended hours and could be tabbed as a LGBTQ community hub — part of a strategic plan announced in September that called for the creation of a “hub-centric” pilot program.
Cars and parking
Murray’s budget includes provision to extend paid parking throughout Capitol Hill from 8 PM to 11 PM by late 2017. The Seattle Department of Transportation is also moving forward with a community proposal to expand Restricted Parking Zone 15 across most of the area between Broadway and I-5 near Capitol Hill Station.
In an effort to boost electric vehicle use, the budget funds an expansion of the city’s recharging network. Seattle City Light will build 20 public fast charging stations and offset the cost of installing 200 private stations. Murray also has set a goal to have 30% of all light-duty vehicles in Seattle operate under electric power by the year 2030.
King County budget
Unlike Seattle’s budget, the King County budget includes some significant program cuts thanks to a Tim Eyman initiative that limits the amount of property tax the county can raise. King County Executive Dow Constantine also presented his budget for the county on Monday. It includes cuts for the county prosecutor’s office, closing a work release facility, and electronic home detention programs.
“We will do everything we can to mitigate the impact of these cuts, but let there be no mistake—unless the Legislature fixes the problem, these reductions will only get worse over time,” Constantine said.
Constantine’s budget does include transit investments, including 300,000 hours of additional bus service in the next two years. The budget also funds cameras on buses and investments to transition diesel buses to an all-hybrid and electric fleet by the end of 2018.