2018 Seattle budget finalized with cash for diversion, Safe Consumption Site study, and a ‘progressive revenue’ task force

After one of the most procedural and contentious budget sessions Seattle’s most recent boom era with heat on homelessness and, recently, mayoral office funds, the Seattle City Council has passed the 2018 budget.

The council voted Monday to maintain (or barely add to, in the grand scheme of things) emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing services, homeless foster youth programs, homeless youth employment services, and the Zero Youth Detention project.

“Simply maintaining these services is not enough, one needs to look no further than one’s place of business or own neighborhood to recognize that Seattle is in crisis,” said budget chair Lisa Herbold. “This is why a sustainable progressive revenue source is so necessary.”

Council members Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley, with the support of Herbold, spearheaded the HOMES tax but to no avail after they (and re-elected council member Lorena Gonzalez) voted down a possibility of using Rainy Day Funds for extra homelessness expenses. It was a lose-lose situation that ultimately sent the council back to the drawing board. Various council members said they want to revisit the HOMES tax in the beginning of next year with some tweaks. Resolution 31782 holds the Council responsible for designating a task force to look at progressive revenue streams for homelessness by early December with recommendations in late February.

At first, the council’s solution was to pull $1 million from soon-to-be Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office budget. That received hot criticism from the Durkan camp and from current Mayor Tim Burgess.

“During this unprecedented period of mayoral transition, we should be coming together to help Mayor-Elect Jenny Durkan staff up and hit the ground running on November 28—just seven business days from now,” Burgess said. “If all of the proposed cuts are adopted, the Council will be reducing the Mayor’s budget by approximately 17%.”

While the lack of action on the HOMES tax and Rainy Day Fund were a letdown for allocating more money to homelessness, the council did end up earmarking an additional $9 million for related services. They already had $63 million scheduled for homelessness in 2018. Some of that money goes to programs that intersect with homelessness but don’t address homelessness exclusively.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), for example, did end up making the budget for expansion thanks to Council member Debora Juarez. Those working for the program feared the worst because so much of their new funding depended on the HOMES tax. LEAD can now expand into the North Precinct, and begin taking referrals from the Southwest, Southeast and South Precincts.

Another example of indirect-homelessness services in the 2018 budget is a new Safe Consumption Site. There will be a feasibility study and an additional $1,300,000 for the site’s Finance General.

The Community Police Commission will get two and a half additional positions and contract funds. The Office of Police Accountability will gain two more positions as well.

Council member Kshama Sawant’s fight for two more authorized encampments got through in the budget. Complimenting that, Council member Harris-Talley arranged for the Human Services Department to also receive extra funds for their workload. O’Brien got funds for a comprehensive community youth diversion program. Public Health and unsheltered homeless people will have more nursing support thanks to Sally Bagshaw. And Gonzalez stuck to her promises in supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault ($200,000).

A complete summary of changes to the mayor’s proposed budget can be viewed here (PDF).

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