Final pieces of Seattle’s 2019-2020 $5.9B budget puzzle: Navigation Team funding, food banks, and red-light camera revenue

The Navigation Team during a cleanup along I-5 (Image: City of Seattle)

With reporting from Seattle City Council Insight

The march to complete Seattle’s 2019-2020 budget is proving a real slog at the top as the process now has about 95% of the plan in place after an epic nine-hour Seattle City Council meeting earlier this week that included votes on a mind-numbing 188 agenda items.

The final pushes around polishing the Durkan administration’s first budget proposal and setting Seattle’s next nearly $6 billion city budget pivot –unsurprisingly — around how to spend the small portion available out of those millions on improving the city’s approach to homelessness and affordable housing.

 

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This week’s fine tuning follows the establishment of the council’s “balancing package” which included funding for homelessness outreach in neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, and a push for Mayor Jenny Durkan to select a safe consumption “Community Health Engagement Location” at some point next year.

Buried in that nine-hour session and its aftermath are some key decisions sure to shape Durkan’s city for years to come:

  • Navigation Team Funding: Council member Mosqueda proposed a variation of her earlier budget amendment that increased pay 2.5% for the employees of HSD’s contracted providers. In her new proposal, there would be a 2% raise for all workers under the city’s General Fund contracts —  a smaller raise, but spread much more widely. Mosqueda had received feedback that parity is important to the city’s contractors, many of whom are delivering on multiple contracts simultaneously. The change would require an additional $480,000 in 2019 and $244,000 in 2020, which Mosqueda proposed would come from a cut to the Navigation Team’s planned expansion: instead of adding nine FTEs in 2019, it would only add six (plus another one in 2020). The idea of changing the pay increase was not controversial, but the cut to the Navigation Team caused some concern (except to Sawant, who would gladly cut the entire team as part of a larger effort to “stop the sweeps”). Herbold has added a proviso to the Navigation Team’s budget that requires the team to deliver data-driven reports on its activities on a quarterly basis in order for its budget to be released, and expressed concern that Mosqueda’s proposed cuts would eliminate the data analysts required to deliver those reports. While Mosqueda’s proposed change was approved, Herbold committed to working with the Mayor’s office and Bagshaw to try to find an alternate funding source so the Navigation Team’s funding can be restored.
  • Sweetened beverage tax funds and food banks: Council members Juarez and O’Brien had a standoff on how to spend excess sweetened beverage tax revenues. Juarez believes that it should be largely spent on food banks, which are severely underfunded in Seattle — and are written into the SBT legislation as a top funding priority. O’Brien noted that while there is a Community Advisory Board tasked with providing recommendations on how a portion of the SBT revenues should be spent, the Mayor’s budget only partially implemented those recommendations, and tried to modify Juarez’s budget proposal to more accurately meet the CAB’s recommendations. After a long, somewhat heated debate, the matter was tabled with the hope that Juarez and O’Brien can bring back a compromise on Monday before the budget is finalized.
  • Vacant building monitoring: The vacant building monitoring program. Included in the budget is legislation from Herbold to expand the vacant building monitoring program. But SDCI, the department tasked with running the program, send a memo to Council members last night raising several issues with Herbold’s proposal, including that the public database of vacant buildings it requires would effectively advertise vacant buildings to squatters and thieves. It also would add to the cost and hassle of a building remodel project that required the owner to vacate the building. Johnson wanted to pull the program out of the budget and take it up early next year in his committee for a more thorough legislative review. Instead, the Council members moved back the effective date from April 1 to June 1, so that Johnson can still review it in his committee and propose additional changes before it goes into effect.
  • The red-light camera revenue: The Council has come under fire for its proposal to siphon off some funds from the Red Light Camera Fund to cover other budget needs. (note: this is distinct from the school-zone camera fund, which the Council didn’t touch). 20% of the revenues are supposed to go to “safe paths to schools” projects, and according to Council member Rob Johnson, there were plans in place to fund a specific set of projects based on projected revenues. But the revenues are coming in higher than those projections, so the Mayor and Council decided to continue to fund all the projects in the original plan but redirect excess dollars to other uses instead of funding additional projects. While Johnson defended it as a “prudent” approach, Council member O’Brien expressed his belief that when the city passes fees and taxes intended to change behavior, the money should be reinvested to avoid that behavior. That said, he said he couldn’t figure out a way to fix that in the 2019 budget, but wants to revisit it for 2020 to use the funds for Vision Zero projects across the city.  Council member Herbold noted that the city will shortly be asking the state legislature to extend the authority for cities to install traffic cameras to enforce transit lanes and blocked intersections, but that Seattle needs to signal to Olympia that it can be trusted to use the funds appropriately so she too wants to revisit the issue next year.
  • Urban villages: Council member Mosqueda requested that several departments jointly prepare a racial equity analysis of the city’s “urban village” growth strategy. she hopes that it will inform work leading up to the next update of the city’s Comprehensive Plan in 2024.
  • Sawant proposals dismissed: Sawant had a much longer list of potential ways to fund additional affordable housing investments, including reinstating the employee head tax, and making cuts in several other programs including the downtown “congestion pricing” studyslowing SPD’s hiring of new police officers; capping city employee salariesabrogating several vacant positionsreducing salaries for the Mayor and Council members; and eliminating new in-car-video computers in police cars. None of her proposals gained the support of her Council colleagues.

CHS reported in October on Mayor Durkan’s 2019-2020 budget proposal, the first budget submitted under her administration, and its Seattle-style austerity with little or no growth and belt tightening across much of City Hall to make way for increased hiring and spending for core services like Seattle Police and Seattle Fire.

These final elements above set the table for closure on the long process. At the final budget committee meeting Monday morning, the council is slated to vote the final budget out of committee. Then Monday afternoon, the full City Council will meet to formally ratify the budget, and send it on to the mayor for her signature.

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12 thoughts on “Final pieces of Seattle’s 2019-2020 $5.9B budget puzzle: Navigation Team funding, food banks, and red-light camera revenue

  1. The Navigation Team needs to be greatly expanded beyond its current staffing…..San Francisco has dedicated twice as many staff to its team, and our homeless problem is at least as bad as theirs is. Mosqueda’s proposal to cut Durkan’s planned expansion (modest as it is) is ill-advised, and hopefully will be defeated.

    That said, I have my doubts about the Navigation Team’s overall effectiveness. In 2017, of 7300 contacts with homeless people, only 1179 (16%) “accepted some sort of service, ” and 675 were “referred to shelters.” (which doesn’t mean they got there, let alone got into more long-term housing). In 2018, so far, only 1000 of 8000 contacts (12%) were “referred to shelters.” These stats are abysmal, and point to the need for the Navigation Team to be more assertive in how they operate. As long as homeless people are allowed to decline services, we are going to continue to have a serious problem. Some “tough love” is what is needed.

    • …and our homeless problem is at least as bad as theirs is.

      Our homeless problem is not even close to the Bay Area’s. Seriously, go down there and drive around SF or the East Bay for like 5 minutes.

      Some “tough love” is what is needed.

      What is “tough love”? Should we start beating the homeless until they stop being homeless?

      Seriously, they are living on the streets. Life doesn’t get much worse than that. They don’t need “tough love”, they need help and our society does not have the will nor the want to help them.

      In 2017, of 7300 contacts with homeless people, only 1179 (16%) “accepted some sort of service, ” and 675 were “referred to shelters.” (which doesn’t mean they got there, let alone got into more long-term housing). In 2018, so far, only 1000 of 8000 contacts (12%) were “referred to shelters.” These stats are abysmal, and point to the need for the Navigation Team to be more assertive in how they operate.

      We’ve discussed this before. The shelters require you to be clean and sober to stay there. At the same time, very few shelters also provide addiction services, so it’s a catch-22.

      • “Seriously, they are living on the streets. Life doesn’t get much worse than that. ”

        They “make” a living by stealing from others and by selling drugs to vulnerable people. And they live on the street by choice because they enjoy the freedom of not having to follow any rules.

        Hard to feel sorry for people who choose a destructive path for themselves & strategically pull on our heartstrings when they need something (namely cash)

        By believing their excuses and lies – and then repeating them in public forums – you not only enable their self-destruction, you harm the rest of the community as well.

      • And if you actually took it upon yourself to learn more about the homeless, you’d learn that the people you describe are a very small minority of the homeless population.

        Like seriously. Volunteer at a food bank, soup kitchen or shelter sometime and you’ll learn a lot about the people you make unfounded assumptions about.

        Ignorant viewpoints like yours are a major obstacle to solving the homeless crisis.

      • @Fairly Obvious – You insistence on “We’ve discussed this before. The shelters require you to be clean and sober to stay there” is incorrect. Many traditional shelters indeed do, but the new enhanced shelters the city is committed to do not have any such requirements… and I would think that an advocate such as you would know that, no?

        Lack of addiction services is indeed a huge issue, and you will find that Bob Knudson has bemoaned the lack of this essential service numerous times as is a proponent in increased resources for this facet. So you and he agree. Great. Nothing wrong with agreeing with someone who is not your ideological soulmate.

        Also to equate “tough love” to beating people is a sad and lazy rebuttal… but unfortunately very 2018.

      • I was down in SF for several days about 2 years ago. Not that it was a comprehensive survey or anything but we walked and took public transit quite a bit… no their homeless problem did not look as outwardly bad as ours. I did not see any tent cities and there were no city parks that we felt uncomfortable roaming around in all nooks and crannies in- unlike here these days.

        And come on… tough love doesn’t mean beating people, but it does mean requiring them, not asking them nicely, to get treatment for mental illness and addiction, yes – whether they want or not.

      • @23 years in the CD

        Also to equate “tough love” to beating people is a sad and lazy rebuttal… but unfortunately very 2018.

        I’ll admit I was hyperboling, but again I’ll ask: what is “tough love” considering Seattle’s current situation? I constantly hear people saying we need more “tough love” for the homeless, but when pressed further, it’s either unrealistic or they can’t really define what it would/should be.

        You insistence on “We’ve discussed this before. The shelters require you to be clean and sober to stay there” is incorrect. Many traditional shelters indeed do, but the new enhanced shelters the city is committed to do not have any such requirements… and I would think that an advocate such as you would know that, no?

        I’ve also read the recent Navigation Team Quarterly Report that mentions that these enhanced shelters are constantly full, leaving the basic (clean and sober) shelters as the only option.

        Bob and I indeed agree that we need to greatly expand these enhanced shelters. Until then, any “tough love” is going to be an exercise in futility.

        @CD Neighbor

        I was down in SF for several days about 2 years ago. Not that it was a comprehensive survey or anything but we walked and took public transit quite a bit… no their homeless problem did not look as outwardly bad as ours. I did not see any tent cities and there were no city parks that we felt uncomfortable roaming around in all nooks and crannies in- unlike here these days.

        I guess YMMV. I was in Berkeley and Oakland about a month ago and their homeless encampment situation was way worse than anything I’ve seen in Seattle.

        And come on… tough love doesn’t mean beating people, but it does mean requiring them, not asking them nicely, to get treatment for mental illness and addiction, yes – whether they want or not.

        See my response to 23 years in the CD above regarding enhanced shelters.

      • @23 years in the CD and CD Neighbor: Thank you for your comments. I agree that our approach to the homeless refusing services needs to change, and that we should at the very least require that they consent to a mental health and/or addiction evaluation by a trained professional, and that they comply with any recommended treatment. Otherwise, if they refuse, then they will not be eligible for any taxpayer or nonprofit-funded services. That is what I mean by “tough love.”

  2. Somehow I’m not surprised Sawant’s colleagues didn’t throw their support behind cutting their own salaries. Or hiring fewer police officers right after they struck a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that we need affordable housing for a broadly mixed community and some swift action toward that, but her stop-everything-and-build-apartments attitude is obnoxious and grand-stand-y.

    • Edited Sawant: “Stop everything and build affordable housing except do it with $5 million less than you would have because I am stopping the tower being built on the Showbox’s land.”

  3. I’m delighted that Sawant’s proposals were dismissed! Maybe she’ll take the hint but doubtful. She’s a terrible blight on our city and needs to go away. As do her posters that still litter the hill from her Nov 7th rally. She has no regard or respect for anyone but herself.

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