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‘A start’ — Durkan 2021 budget proposal cuts police funding by 12%, adds record homelessness spending, and makes brutal decisions for the next year under COVID-19

The $6.5 billion 2021 budget proposal Mayor Jenny Durkan sent to the Seattle City Council Tuesday includes nearly $50 million in cuts to police funding in the form of reductions to sworn officers and moving various units out of the department.

The police department’s budget in 2020 totaled $409 million and the new budget proposal totals nearly $360 million. That would amount to about a 12% reduction. Black Lives Matter protests in Seattle have called for at least a 50% reduction in the police budget.

“This budget is a start,” Durkan told reporters Tuesday. “There’s some hard choices in it, but those hard choices mandate us in hard times to do what I think Seattle has always done and it is to put its values front and center. And for us, that means making true on the promises of so many people in the streets who have said ‘We want to and support the civil rights reckoning we’re going through here. We acknowledge and admit that our city and our country have been built on systemic racism and we need to break down those systems, rebuild those systems with just systems.’”

Nearly half of Durkan’s proposed cuts to SPD next year would come from reducing the police force — both sworn and civilian — and overtime expenses as well as a continuation of the department’s existing hiring freeze. Funding would be reduced to 1,400 sworn officers after being budgeted for 1,422 this year.

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Overtime for events and emphasis patrols would be reduced by $2.7 million next year under the mayor’s proposal. Between late May and mid-July, overtime for demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality cost the department $6.3 million.

The proposal would also bring forward the plan surfaced by Durkan and then-SPD Chief Carmen Best over the summer to remove the 140 employee-strong 911 call center from SPD and create a new Seattle Emergency Communications Center to save over $18 million; transfer the department’s parking enforcement squad, which has 120 employees, into the Seattle Department of Transportation, which would save over $14 million; and make the Office of Emergency Management with its 14 employees an independent office to save almost $2.5 million.

SPD was budgeted for 2,187.35 full-time employees in 2020. The proposal from the mayor budgets the department for 1,853.05, a decrease of over 334 employees.

While this summer’s back-and-forth has highlighted long standing tensions between City Hall and the mayor’s office, common ground appears to have been found with some police duties, like 911 operations and parking enforcement removed from the department.

Durkan also plans to sign an executive order this week to lay out the timeline and plan to task an Inter-Departmental Team to analyze 911 operations, look at reforms of the department’s overtime policies, and recommend broader changes to Seattle police. The team’s final report is slated for next spring.

“I am dedicated and committed to making sure that we actually look at policing and change how we do it in community,” Durkan said Tuesday.

The council’s mid-year budget passed last week also included $14 million for various public safety initiatives, which Durkan has committed to quickly disbursing.

King County Equity Now launched what it is calling the “Black Brilliance Project” on Monday, a team of over 100 community members setting out to lay the groundwork for participatory budgeting over the next couple months with public safety and racial equity research. The council approved $3 million in funding for a participatory budgeting process last week.

Those hoping for happier times ahead after months of restrictions won’t find much to be inspired by in Durkan’s proposals. Cutbacks include library closures and parks facilities shut down through at least next summer.

“The budget assumes that Library facilities will not fully reopen to the public for in-person services until July 2021,” the budget proposal cooly states.

Transportation spending and bike projects will mostly be put on hold.

Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal marks a crucial moment in the ongoing tug-of-war between the City Council and the mayor’s office over the future of police funding in the city including the council’s move to override the mayor’s vetoes on SPD cuts in the 2020 budget last week. In that vote, the council essentially turned its back on negotiations with the Durkan administration.

UPDATE: District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, the longest serving member of the City Council, called Durkan’s proposal another “austerity budget” in a statement on the plan.

“Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has given us torrents of tear gas, blast balls, and pepper spray, who has staunchly defended Amazon and billionaires from even minimal taxation, and who has presided over brutal austerity budgets, is now offering a 2021 budget that will only double down on hard times for Seattle’s working people and marginalized communities,” Sawant writes.

Sawant says her annual People’s Budget process will create a budget plan that “would fully fund, not slash, parks and roads” and “not freeze positions and lay off hard-working City workers.” In past years, few of Sawant’s People’s Budget priorities have been met in the process to shape the final budget for the city,

The council now will begin shaping the mayor’s 2021 proposal and building its own in the coming weeks before expecting to approve a complete budget for next year by late November, according to a schedule released last week. The Select Budget Committee will meet Wednesday morning to hear presentations from council staff and officials from the City Budget Office (CBO).

Durkan has repeatedly pointed to her pledge in recent months to invest $100 million that she says would be earmarked for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. The mayor announced Friday a task force made up of community members to help decide where the money goes. Community recommendations for where this money is specifically allocated are expected to come next spring.

“We want to make sure that as we continue through this response to COVID-19, the economic crisis, and the civil rights reckoning, that when we come out of this COVID crisis, we come out stronger and more equitable and ready to move forward as a city,” Durkan said.

Mayor Durkan in a prepared introduction to her budget presentation Tuesday

It’s unclear where this hefty sum will come from with the city’s budget in tatters with the coronavirus pandemic. Publicola reports Durkan is planning to pay for the spending with revenue from the $200 million a year business tax passed by the City Council this summer to fund housing, business assistance, and community spending and help Seattle recover from the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as well as revenue from Seattle’s Uber and Lyft fees.

Those concerns that money could be redirected from the council’s Jump Start program are drawing ire from the mayor’s critics who would say it’s hypocritical for her to use this money she ardently opposed for her pledge.

The payroll tax is forecasted to bring in over $214 million in 2021, according to the CBO. CBO Director Ben Noble said the mayor’s budget proposal is “largely consistent” with the council’s planned uses for the revenue from the new tax, which included coronavirus relief and support for low-income families.

The fine print
The city’s general fund, which includes the $100 million pledge, coronavirus relief, and funds many city government operations, would total $1.567 billion under the mayor’s proposal. Nearly $1.5 billion comes from various revenue streams, including the Jump Start payroll tax and other taxes, and is supplemented by over $52 million in money from the city’s emergency reserves.

This will leave just $5 million in the city’s reserves, which could spell trouble if there are further revenue shortfalls or more unexpected expenditures. The coronavirus pandemic dealt a major blow to revenue this year as major funding sources dried up with minimal activity in the city.

The budget does not account for possible federal or state support for coronavirus relief efforts.

Aside from policing, SDOT is facing an $85 million shortfall, which would result in $60 million in reductions and project delays with the rest of the gap filled by a loan. Capital spending will be taking the brunt of this budget hit, with paving and transit and bike infrastructure projects reduced and projects like the Northlake Retaining Wall delayed.

Amid the massive outlays detailed in the budget are also small expenditures like the $180,000 grant earmarked by the City Council to support the Generations Aging with Pride senior center serving the LGBTQ community planned for development on Broadway

Durkan also repeatedly pointed to the need for more progressive revenue in a state famous for its regressive tax policies. She said her office is looking at a potential income tax proposal, which could include direct redistributive payments to disadvantaged communities. An income tax could not be fully implemented in 2021, however.

Spending on homelessness will also continue to increase as it has in recent years. Durkan’s proposal includes over $151 million in city homelessness spending, up from the under $110 million passed for 2020 and less than $4 million above how much Seattle will actually spend this year in dealing with the crisis given one-time costs related to the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on homelessness.

A new $23 million federal Emergency Services Grant will be spent on temporary non-congregate shelter, on top of another $3 million grant to be spent in the final months of 2020. To support new shelter facilities opening late this year with 125-person capacity, the budget also includes $2.75 million. There’s also $6 million in General Fund support for hygiene facilities and mobile shower services as well as $8 million for rental assistance.

The city does expect to lay off about 40 employees across a bunch of departments to save money, which could affect community services. Additional budget reductions include leaving non-essential positions vacant, a wage freeze for some employees, and eliminating spending on unnecessary travel and other expenses.

“This is a budget that makes tough choices,” Durkan said. “But coming out of this budget, I think in the middle to third quarter of next year, we are going to be very well positioned to be one of the strongest cities coming out of COVID-19.”

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25 thoughts on “‘A start’ — Durkan 2021 budget proposal cuts police funding by 12%, adds record homelessness spending, and makes brutal decisions for the next year under COVID-19” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. City of Seattle’s 2020 budget was also $6.5B so there weren’t really that many hard choices made, but we all know this is going to be a total sh*tshow when it gets in front a council that’s largely made of people who’s only professional experience is in government and who are all so young most of them have only had to do budgeting in a time of explosive growth in both local economic activity and government spending.

    If they were smart they would take this well thought out, flat YoY budget, and run all the way the bank with it because a flat budget after Coivd is a minor miracle, but we know the council cant do that because the whole ponzi scheme of being on the Seattle city council is funneling tax payer money to special interest groups (cascade bike club, Scott Morrow, Transit Riders Union, etc.) who then AstroTurf city council meetings and rallies like what we saw last week during the budget veto vote. If those on the city council can’t continue to buy the votes they need from special interest groups and they actually had to go listen to constituents and try to earn votes from actual law abiding, working, tax paying residents of this city they would be voted out so fast their heads would spin.

  2. Seattle’s budget is 1.5-2 times more than same sized Boston. Why?

    40 layoffs in the bloated city government is nothing. Ed Murray/Jenny Durkan have increased city employees and their salaries (many, (many making $100,000 +) more than any other mayors.

    For every cop they reduce they should reduce 2 city bureaucrats.

    • That’s actually an easy one for a different reason: you’re not including the state-level funding and tax policy.

      Boston and Massachusetts together spend about 10% more on behalf of each Boston resident than Washington and Seattle together spend for each Seattle resident.

      The difference is in the state funding: Massachusetts has a state income tax, and spends 72% more on Boston residents than Washington spends on Seattle residents.

  3. Seattle and King County have been spending increasing amounts of money for years on the homeless, with nothing to show for it. The number of tents occupying our public spaces (and degrading them) continues to increase, especially now that there is a moratorium on clearing any camps….and this will only get worse now that the Navigation Team is de-funded by our lefty City Council.

    The definition of foolishness is to continue to do something which has been shown to be ineffective (throwing more money at this problem), and to expect a different outcome.

    • That’s kind of like saying “we’ve spent some money on levees to stem the flood, but the waters are still too high; therefore all levees are ineffective.” It’s bad logic.

      The fact that there are still homeless people is not evidence that what they’ve done with the funding received to date has been ineffective.

      It is evidence that the total actions to date, **including funding**, are inadequate.

      Seattle has experienced a historic increase in the demand for housing. The city has grown by 20-25% in about ten years. To go back to the water analogy, that’s a huge, 500 year flood that in the short term is going to be hard to combat with any amount of money.

      I do think it’s fair to demand evidence from the city that they’re using the money in smart ways, and crucially to define what “success” really means and what kind of effort + funding it will take to get there. Just aware that sometimes the best approach to a problem is not incremental; it requires more radical steps. I may have missed it; does that kind of presentation/estimate exist?

      Finally – not to harp on the language, but those “tents” contain people who are struggling. Would be nice to include some sympathy for them in your comments. Cheers.

      • I see the analogy quite differently….. We’ve spent some money on levees, but the waters are too high, but we persist on throwing money at these levees that we know don’t prevent flooding, rather than moving people out of the flood plain….

      • It’s an analogy….. yours I might add, so you can hold onto the righteous indignation you are working up…. The things we are/have been doing clearly do not work…. they only stick a temporary bandaid on things and get people through a day but don’t address the underlying conditions of the individuals homelessness.

        It’s a lot like continuing to throw more and more money to build higher and higher levees on a flood plain, when the real solution is to stop building houses in flood prone areas…

      • It’s kind of like having your house fall over due to complete lack of maintenance.

        “But we regularly vacuumed the floors and wiped down the kitchen counters!”

        At present, all we’re doing is throwing money at vacuums and wash cloths because a small, very vocal group of people won’t allow us to even buy a hammer, since that does nothing to keep the floors or counters clean.

    • So the Nav team is worthless and has zero impact but also de-funding the Nav team is bad? Sorry bud, you can’t have it both ways…sounds kinda foolish actually.

      “The definition of foolishness is to completely bungle a statement I never made” -Jeff Einstein.

      • You are putting words in my mouth, Sara. I did not say that the Nav Team is worthless. Actually, I think it’s a very important element of trying to help the homeless, as the team makes a sometimes-successful effort to get people into more stable housing, and in some cases into treatment for their addictions. And, yes, the team does clean up some of the camps, an action which is supported by many Seattleites.

  4. Seattle and King County have been spending increasing amounts but also consistently less than what is necessary to address the problem. Their citizens keep electing officials who are primarily focused on keeping capitalism rolling, which exacerbates the ongoing issue of income inequality. Seattle doesn’t have a homelessness problem, it has a rich people problem. Stop voting for the status quo because that’s how we got here.

      • Seattle has had one mayor who was not a capitalist in my lifetime, that was Mike McGinn. Unfortunately, he was hamstringed by Burgess and his council. In terms of the council, Sawant is the only one I could describe as not being beholden to capitalism (although some are less capitalistic). Neoliberals have ruled the city for decades. How much longer do we need this to continue before we change course?

    • I have no confidence that any amount of money can fix the problem at this point because I don’t believe it would be spent on things that are effective. The onus should be on the city and service providers to prove efficacy to taxpayers.

      Test several programs/approaches on small scale with clear measures for success, then juice the effective ones with more money to expand scale. This isn’t rocket science.

      • Part of the problem is instead of funding programs that have been effective in other societies, Seattle / King County fund studies that look for new programs. Part of the problem is that politicians fear voters will balk if they hear what those programs cost. People hear the word tax and freak out but for some reason they have no issues with the amount of corporate welfare their taxes go to.

  5. “Nearly half of Durkan’s proposed cuts to SPD next year would come from reducing … overtime expenses ”

    The majority of overtime paid to police occurs for one of two reasons: (a) court summons, (b) required CE training.

    So, I guess people accused of a crime will no longer have the opportunity to cross-examine investigating police under Durkan? An affidavit will be submitted to the court and that’s that.

    Or, Seattle Police will no longer receive ongoing training after they leave the police academy? As case law evolves defining different limits on search and arrest, Seattle Police will just keep doing it like they’ve always done, incurring millions more in liability payouts from the city as a result?

    I wish Durkan would let us know which of these two are going to be the future of life in Seattle instead of just vaguely saying “no more overtime! Problem solved!” (Of course, if the precious Fourth Estate don’t bother to ask her that question, I guess she can get away with saying that.)

    • Actually, I take all this back.

      After the 2021 budget takes effect I’m going to park wherever I like moving forward and drive however fast I fancy. Frankly, Lake City Way’s 35 mph limit has always been 15 too slow for that stretch anyway. I’ll just demand an officer appearance anytime I get a ticket and then move for dismissal when they’re a no show since overtime was abolished.

      All you NIMBYs can take your “20 is Plenty” signs and … um, put them somewhere. This is SEATTLE MMXXI!!! Only the strong survive!

      • …like there’s any meaningful traffic enforcement now? In 2018 the SPD issued about 10 speeding tickets per day. Total, in the entire city.

        When compared with average daily traffic in the same year at about 1.1 million trips per day: your odds are far better to win the Washington state lottery than you are to get a speeding ticket in Seattle.

      • @lawton it’s far more plausible than you’d think. When the city has conducted traffic speed studies, many find that 50-80% of traffic on many arterials are going above the speed limit.

      • The current state of extremely dangerous drivers can be easily confirmed by driving around the City’s arterials and setting your cruise control at exactly the speed limit and/or attempting to cross a road as a pedestrian. Good luck.

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