The City Council Monday finalized its efforts to fill in a few blanks in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 Seattle budget, her administration’s first budget and, most likely, one of the few municipal $5.9 billion budgets in the world to get slapped with the “austerity” label.
“The goals of inclusion and economic opportunity have guided us for these past 12 months, and this approved budget invests in these promises and commitments and shows we can live within our means,” Durkan said in a statement following Monday’s 8-1 votes approving the 2019 and 2020 budgets. “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 inclusive Seattle with true economic opportunity.”
“Using this budget as our guide, we must continue to be stewards of taxpayer dollars and invest in a more affordable, inclusive and vibrant future for all who call Seattle home,” Durkan said Monday.
District 3’s Kshama Sawant, representing Capitol Hill, the Central District, and nearby neighborhoods, was the sole vote in opposition to the spending package and called the process at City Hall business as usual for the “establishment” council and mayor.”
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“We did not win a People’s Budget today, but we are building the sort of movement that can win one in the future, and I am proud to be part of that movement,” Sawant said in her statement on the passage. “Thanks to all the hundreds of working people who came together this year to fight for a People’s Budget. You have again set an example for working people around the country fighting for an alternative to austerity and the bankruptcy of corporate politics.”
After plenty of scrubbing and a search for efficiencies like cutting fuel and consultant costs, Durkan’s budget proposal set the tone weighing in at $5.9 billion but preparing the city for a predicted coming downturn in revenue. The 2019-2020 Seattle budget was shaped with general belt-tightening — most departments will face cuts to consultant spends and to their fuel budgets as 10% of the city’s vehicle fleet is axed along with some major commitments to the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire, and SDOT. For the Hill, there is 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.
The final days of the budget process included debates over what to do with elements like red-light camera revenue, and funding for the city’s Navigation Team that is deployed to help clean out homeless encampments. A last-minute solution will preserve the planned expansion of the Navigation Team, Seattle City Council Insight reports.
Other changes to Durkan’s proposals were outlined in a statement by the council’s budget committee chair Sally Bagshaw:
- Addressing homelessness: To address the needs of thousands of our neighbors who are homeless, we are providing more funding for shelter, targeted outreach, and access to the vital services they need. Recognizing that the increased demand for housing and health care requires a coordinated, systemic and action-focused regional response in 2019, we invested in programs that will make an immediate difference for both service providers and people within our city. These include homeless mental health outreach; expanded treatment for individuals facing substance use disorders; homeless Navigation Team support services; expanded emergency shelter; homeless day center;homeless services for Native American and Alaskan Native women; and, LGBTQ homeless services. These are improvements yet the demand for thousands of additional units of affordable housing across our city and county remains.
- Criminal and legal system reforms: We have dedicated resources to make systemic changes to our criminal, legal, and first responder systems to create better outcomes for our community. We are expanding the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)program city wide; providing legal defense services for vulnerable populations including sexual assault survivors, immigrants and refugees, people facing eviction andindigent persons needing defense services; and added funds for a coordinated first responder triage pilot.
- Increased health services for our most vulnerable populations and fair wages for Human Service providers: To ensure coordination and efficiencies wherever possible, we’re re-thinking how we respond to individuals who are in a behavioral, mental, or chronic illness crisis. Specifically, a newly coordinated Mobile Health Response Team in our Seattle Fire Department will enable First Responders to care for individuals suffering from chronic behavioral or mental health crises in a more person-centered and effective way. We’ve also added a behavioral health provider to the Navigation Team to help the team communicate with and offer individuals living in unsanctioned encampments with compassionate options. Additionally, recognizing that our human service providers are on the front lines of supporting our community’s most vulnerable people, we’re compensating them through an inflation increase. This is a small, yet critical step to pay human service providers more fairly for the value and dedication they bring to Seattle.
- Capital improvement and neighborhood dollars: We are investing in the South Park Campus; and, a Child Care Center at City Hall. We are also funding improvements and activation in the ‘Yesler Crescent’ corridor in Pioneer Square to improve public health and safety. Examples of other neighborhood-funded projects include paving on 35th Ave SW in West Seattle, the Lake City Community Center redevelopment, and funding a public safety coordinator for the South Park neighborhood.
- LGBTQ and transgender community: We’ve made budget decisions through the lens of equity and have consequently invested more in communities that have been marginalized, overlooked, and underserved. For example, we’ve allocated new resources for greatly-needed LGBTQ senior community services.
You can learn more at the City Council’s budget website.