Last Wednesday, November 7th, the chair of the budget committee, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, released her budget package. As chair, it was her responsibility to take all of the changes proposed by other councilmembers, select what to include and what to ignore, and come up with a budget that would balance. For every proposal to spend additional money, something else in the mayor’s proposed budget had to be cut.
But first, a good budget writer looks for adjustments to revenue (increases in tax collections, fees, transfers from other funding sources, etc.).
Bagshaw made a few adjustments to find extra revenue in her budget. First, she added about $1.5 million for 2019 and $1.4 for 2020 to reflect the latest October 2018 revenue forecast. Tax collections are up, and it makes sense to adjust next year’s budget for that increase.
Bagshaw also proposed ending the 20% of revenue from the red light camera fund that goes into the School Safety Traffic and Pedestrian Improvement Fund. She would divert that money to the General Fund to create another $1.8 million in 2019 and $871,000 in 2020.
Bagshaw also would to ask all city departments to take a general cut (they can decide what to cut) to free up $900,000 in 2019 and $1.4 million in 2020 for the General Fund.
Specific departments were targeted for larger cuts, too. The biggest was a cut of $1,365,000 in 2019 and $1,000,000 in 2020 from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) for salary savings. SPD has had trouble filling current vacant positions (which makes Mayor Durkan’s request for money to fund 40 new positions in SPD absurd). Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the public safety committee, proposed that the SPD submit quarterly reports to the council on staffing levels, and Bagshaw included that request in the budget. The council also is asking the mayor to submit a report regarding how the city collects fees for special events; Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is concerned that the city isn’t charging businesses enough money to cover salaries for police security at those events.
Other department level cuts include a $614,000 cut from the Office of Economic Development, $335,000 from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, and cuts to executive and managerial positions from several departments.
Bagshaw’s total revenue adjustments and cuts come to about $7.7 million in 2019 and $6.2 million in 2020, for a total of about $14 million that the council can use for other priorities.
It’s worth noting that more money could be freed up from the police department’s budget by looking closely at the $7 million set aside for salary increases in 2019. The city council will vote tomorrow on whether to approve the new contract for rank-and-file police officers (the source of that $7 million in salary increases). If the council rejects the contract, then there will be a lot more money available for changes to the budget come Wednesday morning, when the council begins its vote on the budget amendments.
Also, the city council needs to look more closely at the Seattle Streetcar system for potential cuts. The transportation budget includes a number of requests from the city council for information on the streetcar system. Eventually the council will need to discuss cutting back or shutting down a system that provides little benefit to Seattle commuters at a price of over $11 million per year in operating costs.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the spending items that Bagshaw included in her budget package.
Of the $14 million available, the Human Services Department and homelessness programs are getting about $8.3 million of that. Increased funding for homelessness services include:
- $1.1 million to fund SHARE/WHEEL emergency shelters, which the mayor’s budget only funds through June of next year. This will save 217 shelter beds from closing.
- $575,000 to add back homeless prevention services that the mayor cut from the budget.
- $280,000 for a health and environmental investigator
- And $200,000 for day center operations.
Other services within the Human Services Department that will see a funding increase include:
- $1.2 million to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD), which directs low-level offenders (primarily drug users and sex workers) into community-based services instead of jail
- $1 million for drug treatment programs
- About $1 million for contracted wage increases for human services staff
- $969,500 for food banks and food programs that the mayor wanted to shift over to be funded with taxes collected from the Sweetened Beverage Tax (these will be shifted back to the General Fund)
- $100,000 for a Community Health Engagement Location, also known as a supervised consumption site
- And $88,000 to add a mental health professional to The Navigation Team (finally).
Some of items inside other departments that made the cut include:
- $1 million for community-based organizations to treat juvenile offenders and keep them out of juvenile detention
- $440,000 for civil attorneys to defend indigent folks in Seattle Municipal Court
- $400,000 for the Home and Hope Program, which is working with private developers and nonprofits to build affordable housing combined with early childhood learning centers
- $395,000 for legal defense services in the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs
- $263,000 in additional funding for tenant outreach and legal services
- And $170,000 for a Legacy Business Designation Program, which would provide a means to preserve small, iconic businesses in our rapidly gentrifying city.
Some big-ticket items didn’t make it into Bagshaw’s budget, including Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s proposal for a $3 million mass tent shelter, similar to the ones in Tacoma and Los Angeles. Also, Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s proposal to set aside $300,000 that community-based organizations can use to create new emergency housing didn’t make the cut.
There’s not much additional money in this budget for affordable housing. Mayor Durkan’s original budget proposal included a 3% increase for housing programs, but the rate of inflation in Seattle is running at 3.1% for the past year alone. So a 3% increase for a 2-year budget cycle is just not sufficient. Without additional revenue—preferably from a new source (like the Employee Hours Tax, an income tax, or capital gains tax)—Seattle won’t be able to meet the need for affordable housing over the next 10 years.