Tag: 2021 city budget

Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget

1. Starting January 1, King County will a new interim sheriff: Patti Cole-Tindall, previously an undersheriff in the King County Sheriff’s Office, will assume the role until County Executive Dow Constantine appoints a permanent sheriff in mid-2022.

Last year, county voters approved a charter amendment that sets up a process for appointing, rather than electing, the King County sheriff. Tindall will be King County’s first appointed sheriff in more than two decades.

Before joining the sheriff’s office in 2015, Tindall served as both the director of the county’s labor relations unit and interim director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, an independent agency that investigates misconduct and systemic problems in the sheriff’s office.

At a press conference Tuesday, Tindall said that she doesn’t plan to apply for the permanent sheriff or for permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, the two most prominent law enforcement job openings in the county. “I see my value in this appointed process as being there to help the permanent sheriff be successful,” she said. The county council, with input from a panel of sheriff’s staff, community members and local government representatives, is still reviewing candidates to become the permanent sheriff.

Constantine also debuted his proposal to provide hiring and retention incentives for sworn sheriff’s officers, which county council budget chair Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduces as an emergency amendment to the county’s 2022 budget today. The proposal would provide $15,000 to officers who transfer from other departments, $7,500 to new hires, and a one-time $4,000 bonus to every officer in the department. Constantine argued that while the sheriff’s office, which has 60 vacant officer positions, isn’t currently struggling to meet demand, the incentives might help attract and retain officers as a growing number of officers reach retirement age.

King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG) President Mike Mansanarez told reporters he supports the hiring and retention incentives. His counterpart at the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, Mike Solan, voiced his skepticism about a similar hiring incentive program introduced by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in October.

2. On Monday, the Seattle City Council approved a $7.1 billion 2022 city budget that provides new funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, preserves the JumpStart payroll tax spending plan while restoring the city’s depleted reserves, and keeps Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget for the Seattle Police Department largely intact, shaving about $10 million off the mayor’s initial $365.4 million proposal.

As budget chair Teresa Mosqueda emphasized twice on Monday, the budget the council adopted doesn’t require SPD to lay off any officers, nor does it eliminate any officers’ salaries. Instead, the council saved $2.7 million by assuming SPD will lose more officers next year than Durkan’s budget projected—125, instead of 91—and moving their unspent salaries out of SPD’s budget. Continue reading “Afternoon Fizz: New Sheriff In Town, Council Adopts $7 Billion City Budget”

As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent

Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Councilmember Andrew Lewis

 

By Erica C. Barnett

At the end of 2021, the city of Seattle will cede direct control over all its existing homeless service contracts to the King County Regional Homeless Authority. But the city’s 2022 budget deliberations have made one thing clear: The city still expects to have a direct hand in how the money it provides to the authority gets spent, down to the line-item level of earmarking funds for specific purposes.

The city could send the new authority up to $150 million next year, including both funding for existing contracts (which the authority will retain, unchanged, in 2022) and for extras requested by city council members and the KCRHA itself.  Of about $40 million city council members have proposed adding to the city’s budget for homeless services next year, about $12 million would expand or extend existing programs or fund new priorities, all through what the budget describes as “contracts” between the Human Services Department and the KCRHA, which is independent from the city.

For example, three budget amendments from homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis would provide a total of $1.5 million for YouthCare, which serves youth and young adults, to provide COVID pay and time off for workers and continue or expand programs like a youth shelter relocated to a larger location during COVID and a barista training program. Another amendment, by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand funding for the city’s RV outreach and parking ticket mitigation program, which Durkan, for the second year in a row, has proposed eliminating.

A spokeswoman for the KCRHA, Anne Martens, said that any money the council adds through the city’s budget process “will be included in our service agreement with the City” but referred more detailed questions about how the contracts would work to HSD. According a spokesman for HSD, the contracts will be part of a “master services agreement” between the homelessness authority and the city, similar to an existing agreement between the city and county for public health services. 

Councilmember Andrew Lewis acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose.

In addition to the amendments council members initiated on their own, the authority is asking for $27.6 million to fund a new high-acuity shelter for people living with serious physical and behavioral health challenges downtown, peer navigators to help unhoused access shelter and services, and funding for administrative costs that the KCRHA didn’t include in its initial budget.

Lewis, who sits on the regional authority’s governing board, acknowledged that the city has few options to require the authority to spend money in a specific way, since the KCRHA is not part of the city, beyond passing a budget restriction called a proviso stipulating that the city won’t provide funding unless it goes to a specific purpose. Councilmember Kshama Sawant has proposed just such a proviso on $9 million in funding for the authority, which, under her amendment, could only fund new and existing tiny house villages, a shelter type that KCRHA CEO Marc Dones has frequently criticized.

In recent years, the council has used provisos to try to prevent Mayor Jenny Durkan from repurposing funds for her own budget priorities, with mixed success. Continue reading “As Homelessness Contracts Leave the City, Seattle Still Wants a Say In How Its Money Gets Spent”

As Council Moves to Fund Alternatives to Police, Durkan Proposes Big Bonuses for SPD Hires

1. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an emergency executive order on Friday introducing hiring bonuses as a recruitment tool for the Seattle Police Department and the Community Safety and Communications Center, which houses the city’s 911 dispatch.

The order will allow SPD to pay officers who transfer from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits from the academy up to $10,000, during the remainder of 2021. The CSCC will be able to offer the same bonuses to lateral transfers and new hires, respectively. The city council has repeatedly rejected attempts by Durkan and her allies to fund new police hiring incentives this year, including a July proposal to restore a hiring incentive program halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a pair of proposals Councilmember Alex Pedersen introduced with Durkan’s support in early September.

In a statement Friday, Durkan said the bonuses would help SPD refill its ranks after two years of record-breaking attrition. According to SPD strategic initiatives director Chris Fisher, the greatest challenge to SPD’s ambitious plan to hire 125 officers in 2022 is convincing prospective officers to fill out applications; the generous bonuses are intended to sweeten the deal.

Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) President Mike Solan criticized the mayor’s order on Saturday, writing in an open letter that “dangling money to recruit new or lateral hires won’t get the job done.” Instead, he argued that the next mayor’s priority should be retaining existing officers.

The CSCC, which launched quietly over the summer as the city’s newest department, is also dealing with a staffing shortage at the 911 call center. The call center has spent 40 percent more on overtime this year than it had by the end of October 2020 as the department struggles to fill vacant call-taker and supervisor positions. Starting on Friday, Seattle residents who call the city’s non-emergency phone number will occasionally be met with a pre-recorded message suggesting alternative resources; that message will only appear when the 911 center has to assign all of its call-takers and dispatchers to emergency calls.

During discussions of the department’s 2022 budget on Tuesday, Councilmember Lisa Herbold reiterated that plans to use $1 million of the department’s unspent salaries for hiring incentives next year—a separate proposal included in the mayor’s 2022 budget plan—should factor in the need to fill vacancies across all city departments.

2. A $13.9 million amendment to Seattle’s 2022 budget would allow the city’s mobile crisis teams—mental health professionals who respond to crisis calls, mostly in and around downtown Seattle—to operate around the clock.

The amendment, sponsored by Councilmember Dan Strauss, would expand the 43-person mobile crisis team, operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), enabling DESC to expand its services city-wide and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who signed on as a co-sponsor of Strauss’ amendment, called the mobile crisis team an example of the kind of investments in alternatives to traditional police response that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget mostly lacks.

Durkan has proposed creating a new “Triage One” mobile unit to respond to about 7,000 annual non-emergency calls about people sleeping or unconscious in public places, but that still “leaves more than 30,000 calls that will default to police response without an alternative funded at scale,” Herbold said. After a review of SPD’s emergency responses by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform earlier this year suggested moving half of the department’s call volume to other responders, Durkan endorsed a less-ambitious plan to divert another 40,000 calls to non-police responders each year—though her budget proposal didn’t create a plan for how to divert most of those calls.

The amendment would also scale up other mental health crisis services, including $1.5 million to pay for 15 new positions with DESC’s behavioral health response teams, which provide follow-up support for people in crisis after their initial interaction with the mobile crisis teams. At the moment, the follow-up team has only four members.

The largest portion of the proposed budget amendment—$8.5 million—would go to the DESC’s Crisis Connections Center, which currently relies on the county for funding; the amendment would not come at the cost of county funding. The money would double staffing for the center, which DESC hopes to move into a larger building.

3. On Tuesday, Councilmember Andrew Lewis introduced a $360,000 amendment to the mayor’s proposed budget that would. among other things, set aside $100,000 to create a “victim compensation fund” that would reimburse individuals and small businesses for stolen inventory, minor property damage, and other misdemeanor-related losses.

The goal of the fund, Lewis told his colleagues, is to replace a restitution process that rarely gets money to victims. “Under the current system,” he said, “an overwhelming majority of the defendants in the municipal court are indigent and, unfortunately, likely to remain indigent.” Of the roughly $191,000 that municipal court judges ordered defendants to pay between 2018 and January 2021, Lewis said, crime victims received just over a third.  Another $250,000 would go towards other “restorative justice” causes, including outreach to crime victims who don’t typically request or receive restitution—particularly people of color. 

The proposal to re-invent Seattle’s restitution system dates back to July, when City Attorney Pete Holmes and a group of advocates for court fee reform  pitched the concept of a “victim compensation fund” to the council. Though Holmes advocates for the fund as a more reliable way to compensate victims of crimes, the proposal is also a response to a recent Seattle Municipal Court analysis that found that judges were more likely to require Black and Indigenous defendants to pay restitution to victims than white clients.

Lewis’ amendment includes some nonbinding policy recommendations that resemble reforms Holmes has already adopted. Most notably, the amendment says the city attorney’s office must allow defendants to go through diversion programs or community court even when those options release defendants from their restitution requirements.

The non-binding policy recommendations in Lewis’ amendment are aimed at whoever takes office in January, although Holmes spokesman Dan Nolte noted that the next city attorney would be able to toss those policies aside without the council’s input.

—Paul Kiefer

Council Tries to Protect Diversion Programs, ICE Contractor Ordered to Pay Minimum Wage, SPD Will Phase Out Minor Traffic Stops

1. For at least the past decade, the Seattle city attorney’s office has worked to replace punitive criminal-justice approaches with programs designed to reduce recidivism without involving police and jails. The office launched pre-filing diversion programs; supported an intervention program for domestic batterers; and took part in the launch of a new community court in 2020. The office still prosecutes misdemeanors—assault, theft and trespassing remain among the most common charges—but outgoing City Attorney Pete Holmes frequently argues that Seattle’s public safety problems can’t be solved with jail time alone.

All of those new additions to the office’s workload are discretionary. A future city attorney could decide to repurpose all or some of the money that currently supports diversion programs and ramp up criminal prosecutions, for example. Ann Davison, a Republican who could become the next city attorney, seems poised to do something along those lines. In Davison’s view, Holmes has failed to adequately pursue misdemeanor charges for “quality of life” crimes like property destruction and shoplifting.

The prospect of an incoming city attorney who might cast aside years of reforms prompted some members of the Seattle City Council, which has supported the office’s diversion programs since 2017, to consider setting some of those reforms in stone.

On Wednesday, council president Lorena González proposed restricting almost $2 million of the city attorney’s 2022 budget so that it can only pay for diversion programs.  Her amendment notes that the council is also working on legislation that would make diversion a permanent duty of the city attorney’s office, in an attempt to deter future city attorneys from discontinuing these programs. That bill will likely go before the council in December.

On Wednesday, council president Lorena González proposed restricting almost $2 million of the city attorney’s 2022 budget so that it can only pay for diversion programs

Public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold introduced her own amendment to add four new positions to the city attorney’s diversion team, to support LEAD and other pre-filing diversion programs run by Choose 180, Gay City, and Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing (LELO).

While a future city attorney could sidestep the proposed proviso by simply not spending the dollars earmarked for diversion, failing to spend money allocated for a specific purpose comes with some political risk. Another looming risk for the city attorney’s office—the departure of staff from its civil division, which works with the council to develop new policies, in response to the change in leadership—is out of the council’s control.

Despite the obvious allusions to Tuesday’s election, no council member mentioned Davison by name.

2. A federal jury determined on Wednesday that the for-profit firm that operates the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma violates Washington’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees only $1 per day for their labor. The jury also ruled that the Florida-based GEO Group Inc., one of the largest private prison and immigrant detention center operators in the country, will need to pay all workers the state’s $13.69 hourly minimum wage, or more, immediately.

Next, U.S District Court Judge Robert Bryan will decide how much the company profited from more than a decade of underpaying detainees to perform most non-security labor in the detention center. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is requesting that the court order GEO to reimburse detainee workers for years of underpaid wages, as are a group of private plaintiffs in a separate class action lawsuit.

During the two-and-a-half-week trial, several former and current staff at the detention center said GEO also replaced civilian workers with detainees to cut costs; Ferguson also asked the court to require GEO to reimburse civilian workers for wages they lost when they were replaced by detainees.

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The ruling comes four years after Ferguson initially sued GEO for minimum wage violations. In that time, detainees at the facility have held multiple protests and hunger strikes to raise concerns about overcrowding, inadequate meals, and a lack of access to medical care.

GEO has owned and operated the facility—the fourth-largest of its kind in the country—since 2005, but when the company’s current contract expires in 2025, the facility will likely close because of a new law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this past spring, banning most private detention facilities. GEO is currently challenging that law in federal district court, arguing that it undercuts the federal government’s authority to detain immigrants and that the closure would mean moving hundreds of detainees far away from their families and attorneys.

The nearest detention facility that can hold ICE detainees is a jail in Yuba County, California, which can hold up to 220 people for ICE.

Though the ramifications of Wednesday’s ruling are tremendous for current and former detainees at the Northwest detention center—according to earlier estimates by GEO, the center generated some $57 million in annual profits—those ramifications won’t extend to the much larger incarcerated workforce in Washington State’s prisons, Ferguson spokeswoman Brionna Aho said. Nearly 2,000 people in state custody produce furniture and medical gowns, cook and package meals, and clear trails, among other jobs; after the state deducts victim compensation, incarceration costs, and other fees, inmate workers earn far less than minimum wage.

3. In a memo to the city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office last week, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz endorsed a plan to phase out traffic stops for minor infractions by the end of the year.

The memo comes five months after Seattle Inspector General Lisa Judge, who co-signed the letter, asked SPD to bring an end to traffic stops for infractions that, unlike DUI or reckless driving, do not endanger the public. Continue reading “Council Tries to Protect Diversion Programs, ICE Contractor Ordered to Pay Minimum Wage, SPD Will Phase Out Minor Traffic Stops”

SPD’s 2022 Budget Proposal Relies on Optimistic Hiring Projections

SPD hiring projection chartBy Paul Kiefer

The Seattle Police Department’s staffing goals for 2022 are extremely ambitious and could leave the department with millions in unspent salaries, according to a staff presentation to the city council’s budget committee on Friday.

More than 300 sworn officers have left the department since January 2020. In 2022, SPD hopes to begin replenishing its ranks, starting with the restoration of 31 paid positions that the council eliminated last year. That proposal would leave SPD with a total of 1,357 funded officer positions, but the department can’t realistically fill all of those positions in a year; instead, SPD estimates that it would end 2022 with 134 vacancies.

Even that goal is ambitious. The department anticipates that roughly 94 officers will leave the department this year, so to reach its goals—a net add of 35 officers—SPD will need to hire a record of 125 new officers. To hit that mark, the department would have surpass the past decade’s average annual hires by more than 25 percent.

During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the council deemed SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” As of the end of September, SPD had hired only 57 new officers.

SPD argues that it can accelerate hiring by making the application process more efficient. The department moved hiring exams online in a bid to improve accessibility for applicants, and instead of conducting time-consuming background checks in-house, SPD is now relying on an outside contractor to speed up the process.

Other variables are outside the department’s control. Washington’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA), which provides a mandatory five-month training to new recruits, can’t increase class sizes without approval from the state legislature. Currently, new recruits have to wait an average of four months after SPD begins the hiring process to start basic training at the academy.

During Friday’s presentation, budget chair Teresa Mosqueda reminded her colleagues that the council has previously asked SPD to scale back its hiring goals. During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the council deemed SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” As of the end of September, SPD had hired only 57 new officers, though the department estimates it will reach 85 hires by the end of the year.

If SPD can reach its hiring goal next year, the department estimates it will still have an extra $19 million from unspent salaries by the end of 2022. SPD plans to use its salary savings to pay for a slew of technology updates, contracts, and operating expenses that aren’t otherwise covered in their budget. Those include familiar necessities—separation pay for officers that leave, for instance—as well as longer-term projects like the expansion of the department’s public disclosure unit. SPD also plans to spend some of its unspent salaries on projects outside the department, including $1.5 million on Seattle-area violence prevention nonprofits.

The largest portion of SPD’s salary savings—$6.4 million—would cover the department’s overtime expenses, driven largely by the return of in-person attendance at sports games, where off-duty officers provide security. While event organizers pay SPD for those costs, council president Lorena González questioned the wisdom of using already officers to staff “for-profit special events,” commenting that the department “need[s] the time these officers have to work on patrol.” Unlike last year, SPD isn’t at risk of overspending its overtime budget: Out of a nearly $25 million budget for overtime, the department has only spent $15.5 million to date.

In all, SPD has a plan to spend all but $1.1 million of its projected salary savings in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as the funding source for dozens of other expenses and projects is a risky long-term strategy, a council staffer warned.

Other council members expressed frustration with SPD’s plan to spend $1 million of its salary savings on software that is supposed to predict which officers might need mental health support by collecting their biometric data and monitoring the length, type, and outcomes of calls they respond to. “That seems like a lot of money to spend on technology that tells us that officers have high-stress jobs,” said Councilmember Tammy Morales. Instead, Morales suggested, the department should direct those dollars to mental health counseling for officers. To the council’s frustration, however, SPD has already begun signing contracts for the development of the predictive technology, with plans to pay for it using salary savings.

In all, SPD has a plan to spend all but $1.1 million of its projected salary savings in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as the funding source for dozens of other expenses and projects is a risky long-term strategy, warned city council central staffer Greg Doss. If the department can eventually fill its vacancies, he said, the council will face a dilemma: Find millions of new dollars to add to SPD’s budget or cut back on salaries to keep other projects alive.

Meanwhile, the October 18 deadline for the city’s vaccination mandate could force SPD to rethink its hiring plan. On Friday, at least 138 SPD officers had not yet submitted proof of vaccination—a figure that does not include more than 100 officers who are currently on leave for various reasons, including military service, misconduct investigations, and medical treatment.

The city hasn’t yet reached an agreement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) about how the city will enforce its mandate on police union members, and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office maintains that the city will start firing unvaccinated officers who haven’t applied for exemptions from the mandate by Tuesday. And the 97 sworn officers who applied for exemptions from the vaccine mandate aren’t necessarily in the clear: If SPD decides that it can’t safely accommodate these officers, they, too, could lose their jobs. SPD’S 2022 staffing plan doesn’t account for the loss of unvaccinated officers.

Though the department acknowledges that its projections are optimistic, SPD strategic initiatives director Chris Fisher told the council in late September that he’s confident they can make the adjustments needed to push a record number of recruits through the hiring process—even if it means holding SPD-only basic training classes at the state academy. The obstacle that concerns them most, he said, is simply getting enough people to fill out an application.