Austerity in Seattle means more police officers, more firefighters, and new staff at City Hall to implement programs like the Domestic Workers Ordinance created this summer to provide an oversight board and minimum wage for Seattle’s nannies, house cleaners, and gardeners. It will also mean maintaining nearly $90 million in annual spending on homelessness and housing services despite the summer reversal on an employee hours tax — though how the money is going to be spent appears to be up for change.
After plenty of scrubbing and a search for efficiencies like cutting fuel and consultant costs, Mayor Jenny Durkan on Monday unveiled the first Seattle budget proposal of her administration, weighing in at $5.9 billion — and 11 MB (PDF). Good times continue to roll in Seattle but the forecast is for things to slow and for the money to get tighter.
Along with general belt-tightening — most departments will face cuts to consultant spends and to their fuel budgets as Durkan plans to axe 10% of the city’s vehicle fleet — and some major commitments to the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire, and SDOT, there are also a few Capitol Hill-specific line items of note in the Durkan proposal including money earmarked for homelessness outreach in the neighborhood and a holdover $1 million to help boost an affordable housing and youth center project on Broadway.
“When I ran for mayor and when I took office, I made a promise to Seattle: That I would act with urgency to address our shared challenges, and that I would work hard to make sure we always provide the greatest public benefit possible from our work, our resources, and how we spend the taxpayers’ money,” Durkan said in announcing the proposed spending plan for 2019-2020. “From giving Seattle’s young people free ORCA and a passport to their city to urgent action on homelessness to protecting our immigrant and refugee neighbors, we’re continuing to build a more affordable, inclusive, and vibrant Seattle. Those values have guided us for these past nine months, and this budget invests in those promises and those commitments.”
My budget is also rooted in a difficult reality:
After years of significant growth, City revenue is reaching a plateau.
— Mayor Jenny Durkan (@MayorJenny) September 24, 2018
Durkan Budget Proposal Highlights
- Anyone worried about austerity measures in the city after Durkan asked her departments for 2%-5% cuts earlier this year should note the mayor’s proposal actually weighs in at around a $300 million increase in proposed spending.
- “Mayor Jenny Durkan is delivering a Seattle budget of austerity for working people in the age of billionaires amassing untold wealth,” District 3 representative Kshama Sawant said. “This is more abdication of duty by Democratic establishment. Working people need to fight for The City We Need. Join the People’s Budget movement!”
- The Durkan proposal would add 40 new police officers to the city by 2020 while Seattle Fire would receive funding to add 120 new firefighters.
- There’s money, too. SPD’s budget would hit $363 million — a 10% jump while other departments are being asked to tread water. A big portion of that will go toward raises negotiated in a new contract hoped to improve working conditions for the city’s police force while continuing reform efforts.
- The budget proposal includes $1.3 million in funding for a new 12-member Community Service Officer Program. As CHS reported in 2016, SPD has revived a force of unarmed community police officers to “handle non-emergency incidents such as neighborhood disputes, investigations, and crime prevention.” The program was previously in effect from 1971 to 2004. “This adjustment funds the rollout and ramp-up of SPD’s new Community Service Officer program. This funding supports the hiring and training of up to ten CSOs and two supervisors in 2019, with sustainment beginning in 2020. The new program will support the department’s community-oriented policing and expand the reach of current community engagement efforts,” the budget line item reads.
- Mayor Durkan also says the budget provides $7 million in spending for youth safety programs meant to deter gang violence.
- Some of the larger expenses of a city probably aren’t surprising. The mayor is proposing about $271 million a year to power the Seattle Department of Human Services which administers employee benefits. The city’s information technology is also in line for a 10% budget boost, with most of the money going towards operations, up 30% to $240 million in 2019.
- Also expensive: fixing Seattle’s streets. The Move Seattle deliverables will require 20 employees and more than $15 million under the proposal.
- The City Connector Streetcar is apparently not cut yet. Durkan’s proposal earmarks $9.1 million in SDOT spending for “streetcar support” — The Mayor has not reached a final decision regarding the future implementation of the Center City Connector streetcar, and the proposed budget makes no commitment as to whether to move forward with the project or not. The City is currently conducting an independent financial analysis and engineering review of the project and this work is not complete. The budget includes $500,000 of one-time Commercial Parking Tax (10%) that will be used either to work toward implementation of the connector or to evaluate and initiate design of transit alternatives for this corridor. SDOT’s CIP anticipates capital funding in later years, in the form of long-term debt, for either the Center City Connector or a transit alternative in the same corridor.
- Seattle’s more progressive initiatives also have real world costs. Durkan’s budget proposes $1.6 million to strengthen the city’s Legal Defense Network — “This item maintains and strengthens legal assistance for Seattle and King County’s immigrants and their families. The Legal Defense Network (LDN) began in the fall of 2017 as a response to the federal government’s increasingly aggressive immigration-related actions, affecting immigrants regardless of legal status,” the proposal reads.
- Durkan’s office also says the city needs two employees at a cost of $275,991 per year to Implement the Domestic Workers Ordinance.
- Following last year’s $1.3 million budgeted for the effort to create a safe consumption site in Seattle, Durkan’s budget doesn’t include a specific line item for the initiative.
- Many of the Hill-related line items are proposed spending to address the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
- $200,000 is earmarked for expanding the existing Navigation Team “to increase outreach to people living unsheltered and help to connect them with safer living alternatives such as the 500 new shelter beds and tiny houses..” The proposed budget includes $200,000 “for additional neighborhood-based outreach to people experiencing homelessness.” The funding would support three full-time outreach workers in Chinatown International District (CID)/Little Saigon, Capitol Hill, and First Hill, as part of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) homelessness outreach program to connect people with services, housing, treatment and employment options.
- The Durkan administration’s $5.9 billion budget plan also includes just over $1 million carried over to help in the purchase of property at Broadway and Pine for an affordable housing and youth center project. “In order to receive the funds, agencies must demonstrate that they have secured funding to purchase and develop the site and a plan for funding operations by the end of 2019,” the Durkan proposal reads. “If a full plan is not developed by that time, the remaining balance will go towards a competitive Community Facilities Request for Proposals (RFP).”
- Durkan’s plan also includes $702,000 and three employees for the Clean City Investments initiative to “address public blight in Seattle and includes: maintaining the Encampment Bag Pilot, the Litter Abatement Pilot, and the Needle Pilot as permanent and ongoing programs.”
- After all that, there’s still a bit left for the arts. Durkan’s proposal includes a small amount of funding to boost the city’s Arts & Cultural Districts including Capitol Hill:
The Office for Civil Rights and Office of Arts and Culture (ARTS) will partner and collaborate on racial equity arts and culture projects including RSJI Speaker Series, RSJI Summit and other special projects. The 2019-2020 Proposed Budget also deepens ARTS’ commitment to protect and support cultural spaces throughout Seattle, particularly in communities experiencing high growth, unaffordability, and displacement. Since 2014, four Arts & Cultural Districts have been added (the Central Area, Uptown, Columbia City/Hillman City, and Capitol Hill) through a cooperative partnership across various City departments. These districts help to stabilize cultural communities in flux and increase affordable housing opportunities in the neighborhood. ARTS’ Cultural Spaces program also brings equity to the current wave of property development. It has connected over 25 cultural organizations and developers to build incentives that have resulted in new and preserved cultural spaces. The proposed budget adds funding to bolster initiatives within the existing cultural districts to ensure their long-term impacts on the community.
- UPDATE: Add a +1 to the headline. Forgot about some small cutbacks related to tactical urbanism around the Hill and beyond. SDOT plans to save $183,000 and $285,000 respectively by slicing back on spending for 1) Summer Parkways, Open Streets and the Play Street Pilot and 2) a “Pavement to Parks Reduction.” About the latter, SDOT says it is planning to “discontinue implementation of new pavement to parks projects” and “manage the pavement to parks locations for decommissioning or transfer.” Sounds like bad news for the Pac-Man Park.
The mayor’s budget proposal now heads to the Seattle City Council for weeks of adjustments and tweaks along with public hearings through October and into November.
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