The Seattle City Council Wednesday continued its discussion of deep cuts to the Seattle Police Department and a redirection to increase funding to social and community programs as it battles through a contentious midyear rebalancing of the city’s budget amid major shortfalls stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city faces a $378 million budget gap as reduced revenue and unexpected spending on the novel coronavirus have wreaked havoc on the city’s finances. Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing more than $183 million in spending reductions to reflect these woes.
Notable cuts include:
- $8 million for pausing the Center City Connector streetcar initiative
- Nearly $7.3 million from the delay of 12 transportation projects
- $9 million to delay the city’s contribution to the expansion of the aquarium
- $1.8 million in lost funding for a comprehensive health clinic
- $2.5 million to stop the implementation of an accessory dwelling unit project from the city Office of Housing.
- Almost $3.3 million from a hiring freeze at Seattle Public Utilities
But — after weeks of protest and activism and an ongoing political battle pitting the Durkan administration against the city’s activist core — the fight over changes to the remaining budget for SPD and cuts to the city’s broader criminal justice system remain at the center of the debate. The mayor is pushing for a little over $20 million in cuts to the department’s budget for the rest of the year, amounting to about 10% of its remaining funds. But this wasn’t enough for advocates of clear change to the way police operate in Seattle.
“The cuts need to begin this year,” Angélica Cházaro, a law professor at the University of Washington and organizer with Decriminalize Seattle, told the council Wednesday. “The city has to commit to the reorganization of the police department to both reduce its size, reallocate its funds and positions to city departments and community organizations that are better suited to creating public health and safety.”
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The biggest chunk of the proposed reduction is reducing overtime expenses for officers by $8.6 million with less special events and emphasis patrols to staff — even as demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality have cost the department $6.3 million since late May. The city also gets to save $4 million by putting the department’s North Precinct project on hold, $3.1 million by reducing the expected wage increase for officers, and over $4 million in reduced equipment and personnel expenses.
Durkan announced earlier this week that she wants to remove $76 million from the SPD budget next year, a concession that didn’t satisfy protesters.
“With 800,000 911 calls every year, reimagining community safety is incredibly complex, and many of the issues that community is rightly asking the City to address require scaling new resources,” a spokesperson from the mayor’s office said in an email Wednesday. “Mayor Durkan believes they are worth solving, and her and the Chief are ready to do the work.”
Seven of nine council members have indicated support for a 50% cut in the SPD budget in line with the demands of protesters. Council member Lisa Herbold said Wednesday she wanted to ensure proposed cuts in staffing are “not simply tied to a number of dollars, but that is tied to sort of an overall policy objective and it’s really tied to our reorganization goals.”
Council member Dan Strauss also said the focus needs to be on specific cuts because “if we just take a number and let SPD make the policy decisions about how that funding is or is not used, we will see the programs that are existing within SPD that we want to see occurring stop occurring.
Meanwhile, the city will be able to save nearly $5.4 million as King County waived minimum payments Seattle would usually have to make for inmates in county jails. While under normal circumstances the city would have to pay for a minimum of at least 187 beds under a 2012 contract with the county, it now only has to pay for the beds used, which is much less. The county granted the waiver in March and has extended it through September.
This money could be used to help fill the city’s budget shortfall, but council member Tammy Morales has proposed to instead use it to provide funds for immediate housing and other reentry support for individuals exiting incarceration.
The council’s budget committee also passed about $86 million in COVID-19 relief earmarked for small business support, housing, support for immigrants and refugees, and food access. The measure passed unanimously and will likely be voted on by the full council during next Monday’s meeting.
Another bill in the mayor’s rebalancing package would spend an additional $29 million in city emergency funds to address the pandemic’s economic impact.
The council committee also passed a resolution looking to earmark money from the payroll tax on large businesses passed last week by the council. The measure itself does not make any appropriations, instead they will be made during the 2021 budget process.
This would include $86 million next year to replenish the city’s emergency coffers, and over $100 million on COVID-19 relief programs and services. Based on estimates for how much money the tax would raise in 2022 and beyond, $131 million would be spent on housing, $37 million on support for businesses, and $20 million each to fund the Equitable Development Initiative and Green New Deal investments.
Every council member voted for the resolution, except District 4’s Alex Pedersen who abstained.
The budget committee is expected to vote on its rebalancing package in a couple weeks with a vote from the full council set for August 3rd.
The full 172-page council memo on the rebalancing package is below: