Tag: city budget

Despite Concerns, Homelessness Authority Approves Budget that Funders “Have No Realistic Ability to Pay For”

Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis
Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

By Erica C. Barnett

On Friday, after a half-hour of discussion, the governing board of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority voted unanimously to move forward with a 2023 agency budget that would require Seattle and King County to come up with $209 million next year to fund the authority—$90 million more than its current “base” budget of $119 million.

Seattle, which provides about 60 percent of the authority’s direct local funding, just received a six-year budget forecast that includes cascading budget shortfalls after next year, including projected operating deficits of $146 million in 2024 and 2025. Seattle’s budget planners are currently discussing ways to reduce such shortfalls in the future, through better long-term financial planning, reducing the number of times departments can change their adopted budgets throughout the year, and making the budgeting process more transparent.

Seattle and the county are the only local funding sources for the regional authority, which also receives some federal funds, including short-term COVID dollars the authority is using to fund some ongoing programs. The Sound Cities Association, representing nearly 40 suburban cities, has voting representatives on the authority’s implementation and governing boards but does not contribute financially to the authority. The city and county agreed to this financial and power imbalance in 2019, when they signed off on a heavily amended agreement that also barred the authority itself from ever raising revenue or issuing debt to pay for homelessness programs.

My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans.”—Seattle City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Andrew Lewis, who sit on the governing board, tried to pass an amendment to the budget clarifying that the proposal was unrealistic without additional funding and “that without such additional funding, the parties to KCRHA’s interlocal agreement will need to make adjustments to reduce” the proposal. The amendment, sponsored by Lewis, also asked the authority to list new spending requests in order of priority “when expenditures are anticipated to exceed current resources” in the future.

After representatives from suburban cities pushed back on the budget amendment—including Redmond Mayor Angela Birney, who said statements about funding required a “broader conversation—Lewis downgraded it to a nonbinding resolution, which passed. But Lewis said that in the future, the authority needs to stop sending the city and county budgets that it knows are unaffordable.

“My constituents and my stakeholders, in my district and also in my city, are tired of being put in the position where we have to be the ones to say no to aspirational budgets and aspirational regional plans,” Lewis said. “If we’re going to pass a budget we know we have no realistic ability to pay for, it puts the city in the position where we draw regional criticism and criticism from the media for not fully funding requests that we were never in a realistic position to be able to do on our own.”

The KCRHA’s budget request includes funding for safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles; a wage supplement for nonprofit homeless service providers; a new “high-acuity shelter” serving up to 55 people with significant behavioral and physical health needs; and “emergency housing,” a kind of intermediate housing between shelter and permanent housing, for up to 345 people.

Mayor Bruce Harrell promised to “identify” 1,000 new shelter or housing beds in the first six months of his term, plus an additional 1,000 beds by the end of the year. On Tuesday, he plans to make an announcement about progress toward that goal, which could include housing and shelter that was already in progress before he took office. Harrell will also unveil a new “dashboard” that could include the location of encampments in Seattle—an idea that many homeless advocates oppose, because they worry it will open unsheltered people up to additional harassment.

New Councilmember Sara Nelson at Center of Debates Over Hiring Bonuses, Renter Relief, and Nonbinding Resolutions

1. At a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee Tuesday, City Councilmember Sara Nelson continued to push for spending up to $4.5 million on hiring bonuses for new Seattle Police Department recruits and lateral hires. “We need to use every tool in our toolbox to accelerate the hiring of officers,” Nelson said. “If we don’t do this, what else are we going to do?” 

Nelson’s resolution states the council’s intent to lift a budget proviso, or restriction, the council imposed on SPD’s funding last year. That proviso stipulated that if SPD failed to meet its hiring goal of 125 new officers in 2022, they can’t spend the extra money until the council lifts the proviso and allocates the funds to a specific purpose. SPD now projects that it will hire around 98 new officers, leaving between $4.1 million and $4.5 million unspent. 

Although Nelson has proposed using the unspent money to pay bonuses to new recruits, the funds may be needed elsewhere. The city budget office has asked every city department to come up with potential cuts of between 3 and 6 percent of their budgets in anticipation of a budget gap of around $150 million next year. Unspent money from this year, including the $4.5 million left over from SPD’s 2022 hiring budget, could help fill that gap.

Just as debate on her hiring bonus resolution was wrapping up, Nelson attempted to walk on a last-minute addition to the committee agenda. The bill, which committee chair Lisa Herbold’s office confirmed she had not seen, proposed lifting the proviso on the $4.5 million to allow SPD to spend it on unspecified “staffing incentives,” including anything that “accelerates and prioritizes the hiring of police officers,” according to a draft of the bill.

Herbold attempted to cut Nelson off by closing debate, but Nelson interrupted, telling Herbold, “this should be the job of the public safety committee.” Although Herbold shut her down by moving on to the next item, the debate over hiring incentives isn’t over; in fact, Nelson has made it a cornerstone of her agenda, arguing that the only way to reduce crime and cut down on “addiction and overdoses” is to hire more police, and the best way to do that is through hiring bonuses. 

The city has consistently found that hiring incentives have no significant impact on the number of new officers SPD hires. Last month, the Seattle Department of Human Resources Department issued a memo concluding that a short-lived 2021 hiring bonus program had little impact on hiring, and an earlier report about a lengthier bonus program in 2019 found that only 18 percent of SPD applicants cited the potential bonus as one of the reasons they applied. 

Mayor Bruce Harrell has not requested funding for hiring bonuses.

A separate bill, sponsored by Herbold, would provide $650,000 out of the provisoed funds for two items the mayor’s office has requested: Reimbursement for moving expenses for new officers and a professional recruiter for the department.

Both Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen left the online council meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers

2. Less than two hours after the public safety meeting ended, Nelson raised objections to several bills on the full council’s afternoon agenda, including legislation updating the city’s renter protections to comply with state law, which she argued would hurt small landlords. (Even Alex Pedersen, who’s with Nelson on the “naturally occurring affordable housing” debate, voted for that one).

Nelson also objected to a nonbinding resolution by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda condemning a federal pilot program critics call a first step toward privatizing Medicare. Accusing Mosqueda of “legislating by slogan,” Nelson she didn’t have enough information on how the pilot would affect “our constituents, and that’s who I represent—I don’t represent advocates or medical service providers.” 

Council members will soon take up legislation that will allow them to abstain from some resolutions that aren’t directly connected to city business, but for now, council rules require them to cast a vote. To avoid this, both Nelson and Pedersen left the online meeting immediately before the vote—the equivalent of standing up in the middle of a council meeting and marching out of chambers.

Although this action technically violates the council’s rules, violations are hard to enforce—back when council meetings happened in person, certain council members were notorious for taking bathroom breaks just before big, controversial votes. After the resolution passed 6-0 (with Kshama Sawant excused from the meeting), Councilmember Dan Strauss took a moment to thank a legislative aide who is leaving. “I’m sorry Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen aren’t here to hear this,” Strauss said.

Hiring Bonuses Don’t “Compensate” for Other Issues Impacting City Worker Retention; Bright Economic Forecast Won’t Zero Out Budget Gap

1. During a briefing at the city council’s public safety committee about the city’s struggle to retain qualified staff in every department, City Councilmember Sara Nelson suggested there is no need to “study the benefit of [hiring] incentives” for police, “because it’s been shown to work in other cities—pretty much most if not all cities in our region.” With public safety “such a crucial issue right now,” Nelson continued, “this is something that doesn’t need a lot more study.”

Nelson, whose legislation to fund hiring bonuses will come before the same committee later this month, was responding to a presentation by the city’s Human Resources Department about a survey that concluded the biggest barrier to retention for most city staffers is the city’s 32-year-old job classification system, which creates artificial barriers to advancement for many city workers. 

Her comments elicited immediate pushback from other council members, including committee chair Lisa Herbold, who pointed out that recent short-lived hiring bonuses did not lead to more applicants for police jobs, although they did get people to apply for jobs at the city’s new 911 call center. (After the city offered hiring bonuses for new SPD recruits in 2019, slightly fewer than one in five applicants said the hiring bonus was one factor in their decision to apply). Councilmember Andrew Lewis asked, semi-rhetorically, whether there was any city in the country that wasn’t currently struggling to retain officers right now. And Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda went further, apologizing to SDHR’s Keith Gulley “on behalf of the council” because “the work that you’ve done was impugned” by Nelson.

So, about that work: SDHR’s analysis found that, in general, hiring incentives serve as “a one-time quick fix that may not compensate for uncompetitive wages, difficult or unsupported work conditions, lack of opportunity to develop career relevance, experience and skills, and limited promotion opportunities” at the city, Gulley said. Additionally, signing bonuses for new hires can hurt the morale of existing employees who “feel undervalued and underappreciated” because they’re doing the same work with no extra reward.”

The hardest jobs to fill, according to the department’s survey, include carpenters, plumbers, and truck drivers as well as IT programmers, senior civil engineers, and public safety auditors. 

The shortcomings of the city’s job classification system are especially troubling for mid-career employees, who frequently get stuck in mid-level positions because they lack a requirement, such as a graduate degree or specific college credits, to move up the ranks. Gulley gave the example of an accountant who had been at the city for more than 15 years but got stuck on the ladder because she hadn’t taken 24 hours of required coursework back in college. “That’s where the majority of our employees who have worked for the city for years get stuck,” Gulley said.

Of three possible scenarios, the city is using “baseline” assumptions in its forecast.

2. An economic forecast released by the city’s Economic and Revenue Council last week predicts the city will take in about $90 million more in taxes and fees this year than a similar forecast predicted six months ago, thanks to higher-than-expected revenues from sales taxes, the JumpStart payroll tax, and the tax on real estate sales.

In all, the city expects to collect about $711 million in general-fund revenues, which fund the city’s annual budget, in 2022—a 5.6 percent increase over 2021. The forecast also predicts the city will take in about $447 million in other taxes and fees that can only be spent on specific purposes, including taxes on real estate sales, which fund capital projects. Next year, the city predicts that revenues will continue to grow, but at a slightly slower rate.

In a press briefing last week, ERC director Ben Noble cautioned that the actual value of city tax dollars—the bang the city can get for its buck—will be reduced this year because of high inflation. And he noted that job growth has been distributed unequally: While tech and other white-collar jobs have more than bounced back, hiring in hotels and the hospitality industry, as well as manufacturing, is still far below pre-pandemic levels. Continue reading “Hiring Bonuses Don’t “Compensate” for Other Issues Impacting City Worker Retention; Bright Economic Forecast Won’t Zero Out Budget Gap”

Public Safety Fizz: Council Takes Up SPD Budget, Captain Demoted Over Protest Role Sues, and More

1. The Seattle City Council’s budget committee heard presentations on Thursday about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2022 public safety budget, which would increase the Seattle Police Department budget by $2.8 million and add 125 new officers, for a net gain, after projected attrition, of 35 officers compared to current staffing levels.

The meeting helped clarify the mayor’s decision to move the nascent “Triage Team” unit (previously, and briefly, known as Triage One) to the Seattle Fire Department instead of the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC). According to CSCC Director Chris Lombard, his fledgling department is underprepared to take on the new crisis units. “It would take us at least six months to get the teams off the ground,” he said, “and I recognize that there’s an urgent need to get this program running sooner than that.” 

In her presentation, SPD budget director Angela Socci said most of SPD’s proposed budget increase would pay for paid family leave and a standard annual wage increase. The rest of SPD’s spending plans come from re-shuffling the department’s existing budget. Even with 125 new hires and slower attrition, Socci predicted that the department may have as much as $19 million in unspent salaries next year to repurpose.

After a brief report on a plan to add staff to the City Attorney’s Office to expand a pre-filing diversion program for young adults, Councilmember Andrew Lewis floated the possibility that the council could make the program a “permanent fixture” of the office instead of “an elective program”—alluding to the impending change in leadership at the City Attorney’s Office, which could place the future of the office’s pre-filing diversion program in question.

2. Three people in custody at the King County Detention Center in downtown Seattle lost consciousness on Wednesday after ingesting a still-unidentified substance. The King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) would not confirm on Thursday whether the three people had suffered overdoses, but department spokesman Noah Haglund noted that jail staff and medics were able to resuscitate all three before transporting them to Harborview Medical Center along with two other people who had ingested the same substance. All five people were housed in the same section of the jail; after the incident, guards emptied the nearby cells and moved inmates to a different unit.

3. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) will no longer use disciplinary segregation—solitary confinement as a form of punishment—in any of the agency’s jails across the state.

The DOC made the change after reviewing data collected in Washington prisons between 2019 and 2020 that showed that more than half of the 2,500 people subjected to disciplinary segregation were punished for non-violent infractions. Additionally, the data showed that most people held in disciplinary segregation had already waited in administrative segregation—another type of solitary confinement, ostensibly for the safety of the incarcerated person—while awaiting a disciplinary hearing. The average stay in disciplinary segregation during the one-year study period ranged from 11 days for non-violent infractions to 16 days for violent ones.

According to a news release issued on Thursday afternoon, the DOC officially ended its use of disciplinary segregation on September 16.

4. A Seattle Police Department commander demoted in May filed a lawsuit against the city on Wednesday alleging that Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz unfairly blamed him for the department’s handling of a protest on Capitol Hill on June 1, 2020. Continue reading “Public Safety Fizz: Council Takes Up SPD Budget, Captain Demoted Over Protest Role Sues, and More”

Durkan Budget Would Gut JumpStart Spending Plan, Increase Funding for Encampment Response

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan released the final budget of her term yesterday, outlining the proposal at a very high level in a six-minute speech from North Seattle College. In the coming weeks, the proposal will be debated, analyzed, and rewritten by the Seattle City Council (the addition of 35 net new police officers is an obvious target for their red pens), and PubliCola will be covering every aspect of those upcoming discussions. For now, though, here are a few initial notes on the plan, which reflects better-than-expected revenues and incorporates a lot of ongoing federal funding for COVID relief.

• The budget proposes taking $148 million from the city’s payroll tax fund, a repository for revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, and moving it into the general fund to pay for Durkan’s other priorities. Legislation the mayor will transmit to the council would also empower future mayors to use JumpStart revenues for virtually any purpose, including the “[m]aintenance of existing essential City services.” The mayor’s proposal would remove language from existing law stipulating that the tax can’t be used to “supplant existing funding from any City fund or revenue source.”

The council adopted the payroll tax specifically to fund programs addressing housing, homelessness, and equity, and created a separate fund for JumpStart revenues with the intention that they couldn’t be used for other purposes—which is precisely what Durkan is proposing to do.

“The proposed changes are necessary in order to reconcile the priorities identified in [the JumpStart bill] with Council actions in support of other critical funding needs, including homelessness, community safety, BIPOC investments, domestic violence prevention and victim services, appropriate compensation for City employees, and the ongoing shortfall in some City revenues,” the mayor’s budget proposal says.

The city estimates that JumpStart will bring in about $235 million next year, so Durkan’s plan would use up the majority of JumpStart funding for non-JumpStart purposes.

Durkan attempted to reallocate JumpStart revenues last year as well.

A summary of the bill by the City Budget Office notes that Durkan didn’t sign the JumpStart bill, “expressing many of the same concerns about earmarking certain revenue streams at a time when the City was making significant investments using one-time funding received from the federal government as a response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.” She also vetoed legislation last year that used JumpStart revenues to fund COVID relief, a veto the council narrowly overturned.

The city estimates that JumpStart will bring in about $235 million next year, so Durkan’s plan would use up the majority of JumpStart funding for non-JumpStart purposes. The budget would use one-time federal emergency dollars to backfill the gap in the JumpStart fund, but because those funds only last one year, the budget creates a future funding cliff for the next mayor and council. If the council adopts this plan, it will have to either cut the programs Durkan funded using a tax meant for other purposes, or continue to dip into JumpStart revenues while cutting back on programs funded this year with one-time funds. It seems unlikely that the council will allow this part of the budget proposal to stand as is.

This is hardly the first time Durkan has proposed dipping into funds earmarked by legislation for a specific purpose in order to fund her own unrelated priorities. In 2018, she started using funds from the sweetened beverage tax—a tax that was supposed to fund healthy food programs in areas most impacted by the tax—to pay for programs that had historically been funded through the city’s general fund, creating “extra” money for her office to allocate elsewhere.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the higher-than-expected contribution to the regional homelessness authority “represents increased spending on homelessness projected 2022. The [agreement] was written in 2019 and did not contemplate the pandemic or the massive infusion of funds to help our most vulnerable neighbors stay safe.”

When the council attempted to reverse this sleight-of-hand and use the tax revenues for their designated purpose, Durkan accused them of “cutting” programs that she was using the tax to fund, setting off a nasty battle that resulted in the council creating a designated fund for soda tax revenues—much like the designated JumpStart fund.

• Durkan wants to add another 35 (net) new police officers to the force—a fairly modest goal, but one directly in conflict with many council members’ stated commitment to reduce the size of the police department and invest the savings into community-based public safety alternatives. Last year, Durkan vetoed the entire city budget because the council amended it to reduce the size of the police force, a veto the council subsequently overturned.

Although the budget proposal includes funding for new and continued alternatives to policing and police response, such as Health One and Triage One, and funding for the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, a gun-violence prevention program, it also commits to “restoring SPD staffing to previous levels” by hiring new officers. To that end, Durkan’s budget also includes $1.1 million to pay for hiring incentives for new recruits and officers who make lateral transfers from other departments.

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The city council just rejected a series of proposals from Councilmember Alex Pedersen that would have set aside as much as $3 million to retain existing officers and recruit new ones to the department.

• The budget proposes sending more money than the city originally agreed to provide—$104.2 million, compared to $75 million the city agreed to provide in the interlocal agreement adopted in 2019—to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to take over (almost) all the homelessness programs previously managed by the city at the end of this year. The homelessness authority is funded by the city and King County; suburban cities, which hold three seats on the authority’s governing board, don’t contribute financially to the authority.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower said the higher-than-expected contribution “represents increased spending on homelessness projected 2022. The [agreement] was written in 2019 and did not contemplate the pandemic or the massive infusion of funds to help our most vulnerable neighbors stay safe.”

The new funds include $2.4 million in state and local funds for “tiny home villages,” coincidentally the same amount of state and local dollars the council has been trying to get the mayor to release to pay for three new tiny house villages this year. The mayor’s proposed $2.4 million would pay for ongoing “operations, maintenance, and services s for three tiny home villages (estimated 120 units) or other noncongregate emergency shelter or temporary housing options,” leaving open the possibility that the regional authority might fund a different shelter option.

However, because the money is supposed to “operationalize” funding in the state capital budget that was explicitly for “tiny homes,” it’s likely that advocates for tiny house villages would object strongly to using the money for some other kind of shelter. Authority CEO Marc Dones has expressed skepticism about tiny houses as a form of temporary shelter, noting that people tend to stay in villages far longer than the city’s own goals for the program.

There’s also funding in the proposal for a new men’s shelter run by Africatown at a former nursing home in the Central District; ongoing support for the Salvation Army’s mass shelter in SoDo; and about $190 million for new housing, paid for through the voter-adopted housing levy, federal dollars, and other funding sources.

Durkan’s proposed budget increases funding for Parks’ encampment work by almost a million dollars, adding 6.5 full-time equivalent employees to respond to “the increased demand on [Seattle Parks and Recreation] to address impacts of unmanaged encampments, such as litter removal, storage of personal belongings, and data collection & reporting in compliance with Multi-Department Rules (MDAR).”

The budget also proposes $6 million for services to help people who receive federal emergency housing vouchers maintain their housing when the vouchers run out. Some of this money, according to the budget summary, could come from rapid rehousing funds. As we’ve reported, the city’s plan to move people quickly from two shelter-based hotels into apartments using rapid rehousing subsidies has failed to place many people in housing, largely because the people moving into the hotels tend to be poor candidates for rapid rehousing programs, which generally require tenants to pay full market rent within a few months to a year.

• Although Durkan’s budget plan relinquishes control of most homelessness work, it still assumes that the city, not the regional authority, will maintain its role removing encampments and, to some extent, doing outreach to unsheltered people, although the form that role will take is unclear. Budget director Ben Noble told PubliCola yesterday that although “the shelter contracts and related pieces are all going to the regional authority… the feeling was that folks who are on the street and not in a sanctioned encampment but living outside are sill the primary responsibility of the city.” Continue reading “Durkan Budget Would Gut JumpStart Spending Plan, Increase Funding for Encampment Response”

Advocates Propose “Solidarity Budget,” LEAD Seeks Funding, Posters Protest Candidate’s Anti-RV Action

1. On Saturday,  a coalition of Seattle-area police abolitionist groups and community nonprofits debuted the city’s second “solidarity budget,” a set of spending proposals for Seattle’s 2022 budget that would shift dollars away from police, prosecutors and the municipal court to pay for mental health services, education and housing programs. The coalition released their plan two days before Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed her own 2022 budget—the fourth and final budget of her term.

The coalition, which includes Decriminalize Seattle, the Transit Riders Union, and Columbia Legal Services, among other advocates, released the first solidarity budget last year, lobbying the council to decrease the Seattle Police Department’s budget by half and to launch a city-wide participatory budgeting program to re-distribute public safety dollars. Ultimately, the council chose to reduce SPD’s 2021 budget by 11 percent and set aside a participatory budgeting program; that project was subsequently delayed  until at least next year.

This year’s solidarity budget also calls for a 50 percent cut to the criminal legal system, largely by cutting the total number of SPD officers to 750—roughly 300 fewer officers than the department currently employs. The proposal calls for eliminating SPD’s narcotics unit, cutting the special victims unit budget by half, eliminating the department’s public affairs unit, and moving the civilian Community Safety Officer program out of the department and into the new Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC).

The coalition also recommended cutting the budgets of the Municipal Court and the criminal division of the City Attorney’s Office by 50 percent. “While the Municipal Court and City Attorneys have begun to embrace non-incarceration and conviction approaches to misdemeanors,” the coalition wrote in their budget outline, “court and prosecutors are not social service agencies, and should not be the gateway to housing and treatment.”

The solidarity budget would shift the money saved through all these cuts to nonprofits that can run civilian crisis response teams, mental health and harm reduction programs, and domestic violence victim support. It also calls for setting aside $60 million for participatory budgeting (the mayor’s budget sets aside $30 million for this purpose), as well as roughly $3 million to support members of the Duwamish tribe in the absence of federal recognition—including free transit passes, funding for inpatient drug rehabilitation, and rental assistance.

2. Earlier this month, PubliCola reported that Fremont Brewing, owned by Seattle City Council candidate Sara Nelson, had apparently placed “ecology blocks” in the public street around its Ballard production facility to prevent people living in RVs from parking there.

The story appears to have sparked outrage: Over the weekend, someone put posters saying “Sara Nelson Hates Poor People” on the blocks. As of Sunday, both the eco blocks and the posters remained in place, although at least some of the posters now say simply, and enigmatically, “Sara Nelson,” after someone (presumably a supporter) came by and removed the bottom half of the message.

Eco blocks, which are enormous, heavy, and hard to move, have popped up in industrial areas around the city as business owners have sought new ways to keep people living in vehicles from parking on public streets near their properties. Obstructing public rights-of-way in this manner is illegal, but the Seattle Department of Transportation has, so far, thrown up its hands, pointing to the difficulty and expense of removing hundreds or thousands of multi-ton blocks from streets around the city.

3. Throughout the Durkan administration, the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) has frequently struggled to convince the mayor’s office to release funding for the program, a diversion program for people whose criminal legal system involvement stems from behavioral health issues or extreme poverty. This year has been no different: In June, the council appropriated $3 million to expand LEAD’s budget by third, but the Human Services Department hasn’t gotten the dollars out the door.

During a presentation at the Seattle City Council’s public safety committee outlining the costs and logistics of expanding LEAD program into a citywide service, council member Andrew Lewis asked HSD staff for a “status update” on the funding. Instead, HSD deputy director Tess Colby said that her department is “actively working” to get the dollars out the door. If HSD doesn’t get the $3 million into LEAD’s hands before the end of the year, the money will go back into the city’s general fund. Continue reading “Advocates Propose “Solidarity Budget,” LEAD Seeks Funding, Posters Protest Candidate’s Anti-RV Action”

Participatory Budgeting “Clearly Delayed Until Next Year,” Councilmember Confirms

An early version of the proposed budget for the Black Brilliance Research Project’s administrative model.

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle’s participatory budgeting process, which received $30 million in the 2021 city budget adopted last year, “is now clearly delayed until next year,” Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales confirmed by email Wednesday.

The city council identified participatory budgeting as a way to allocate spending on alternatives to policing last year. But the timeline to get the process underway has been unclear for months because of uncertainty about who will manage the process. The council is considering two options, but Morales has been reluctant to move forward with either alternative.

The first option would follow the plan the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) team laid out in their final presentation to the city council in March. According to that plan, a third-party contractor—likely a nonprofit—would be responsible for hiring a 26-person “steering committee,” made up of people representing various marginalized groups. The steering committee would gather proposals from Seattle-area residents, shape them into viable projects, and supervise a citywide voting process to choose which projects get funded; through the contractor, the city would pay steering committee members an annual salary of around $112,000, including benefits. 

Despite the delays and controversies, Morales still hopes that a larger-scale participatory budgeting process can become an annual part of the city’s budget.

The third-party contractor would also be responsible for reducing barriers to participation in the participatory budgeting process, including by distributing wifi hotspots and computers to low-income residents and providing translation services. 

Because of all these new hires, the BBRP researchers’ proposed budget for administering the participatory budgeting process is close to $8 million, with an additional $6 million set aside to cover unexpected costs; that would leave roughly $16 million to fund community safety projects.

Because of its high overhead costs, Morales has called called the BBRP’s proposal “unworkable” in its current form. But she is no more confident in an alternative proposal, offered by Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington during talks with the council with BBRP researchers, that would put the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) in charge of participatory budgeting at a lower cost and on a shorter timeline. Under that model, DON would hire 15 contractors to serve on a steering committee for $75 an hour; overall, the mayor’s office estimates that the scaled-down approach would cost $2.6 million, but the office maintains that the mayor isn’t advocating for any model in particular.

The Department of Neighborhoods runs a small, four-year-old participatory budgeting program called Your Voice, Your Choice, which allows residents to suggest and select small capital improvement projects—new speed bumps in front of Leschi Elementary School, for instance—for the department to fund.

From Morales’ perspective, the alternative participatory budgeting plan doesn’t reflect input from Black Seattle residents; according to the BBRP researchers’ final report to the council, members of the public who responded to their questionnaires and participated in their town halls were specifically opposed to entrusting DON to oversee the project. Instead, the respondents favored using staffers from the Office of Civil Rights to support the work of a community steering committee. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting “Clearly Delayed Until Next Year,” Councilmember Confirms”

Council Vote Leaves Fate of Proposed SPD Cuts In the Air

Breakdown of Estimated Salary Savings Under Herbold Proposal

By Paul Kiefer

Months of debate on the City Council about how to distribute millions of dollars in unpaid Seattle Police Department salaries came to an end on Tuesday, though no one seemed satisfied with the result.

During the meeting, the committee considered a proposal to cut $2.83 million from SPD’s budget while simultaneously lifting a budget proviso on another $5 million that the council has withheld from SPD’s budget since the beginning of the year. Ultimately, the committee sent the ordinance to the full council with a ‘do not pass’ recommendation.

The committee’s discussion was part of the ongoing debate over the council’s promise to curtail overspending by SPD last December. When department leadership informed the council that SPD had overspent their budget by $5.4 million, the council expressed its intent to cut the same amount from SPD’s budget this year. The council hoped that the $5.4 million would support the participatory budgeting process this spring.

The planned cut didn’t jeopardize SPD’s plans to hire new officers, because the council had already passed a budget that provided enough money to pay the salaries of all officers SPD expected to hire or retain in 2021.

But the proposal set off alarm bells at SPD. In March, interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz appeared before the public safety committee to argue that the department is already hamstrung by earlier budget cuts and staffing losses. Cutting an additional $5.4 million from the department’s budget, he argued, would plunge the department into a staffing crisis “beyond mitigation” by spurring more officers to leave for greener pastures.

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Later that month, in response to pressure from SPD to reconsider the cut, public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold revised the proposal: instead of cutting $5.4 million from the police department budget, the council could reduce the cut to $2.83 million. Most of the money taken from SPD’s budget would go to the participatory budgeting process; the rest would pay for civilian staff in other city departments who could support SPD, including evidence storage staff and five new mental health crisis responders. Herbold also proposed offsetting the $2.83 million cut by lifting a proviso the council passed last November that withholds $5 million in salary savings from SPD; the department’s budget also includes several million more dollars in salary savings unaffected by the proviso because of the abnormally high attrition from the department in the past year.

From Herbold’s perspective, the reduced budget cut still allowed the council to penalize SPD for spending beyond their budget in 2020 while also giving the department greater flexibility to fill budged holes as they appeared.

But Herbold’s proposal to reduce the size of the budget cut didn’t assuage SPD’s concerns. And it drew the attention of Dr. Antonio Oftelie, who leads the monitoring team appointed by a federal district court to track the progress of reforms to SPD. Oftelie’s team directed the committee to delay acting on their plans to cut SPD’s budget until department leadership answered a list of questions about the impacts of staffing losses and additional budget cuts on the department’s day-to-day responsibilities. Continue reading “Council Vote Leaves Fate of Proposed SPD Cuts In the Air”

SPD Argues Proposed Budget Cut Would Lead to Crisis “Beyond Mitigation”

SPD data shows rising attrition since 2012, when the department fell under federal supervision.

By Paul Kiefer

Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz appeared before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday to present his argument against the $5.4 million cut to the SPD budget proposed by the council in December 2020 in response to overspending by the department. Diaz argued that the additional proposed budget cut could plunge SPD into a staffing crisis “beyond mitigation.”

The proposed $5.4 million cut was the council’s response to the revelation in December that SPD had overspent its budget by that amount, requiring the council to make a last-minute addition to the department’s budget. Though SPD staff told council that the department needed that funding to cover separation costs, family leave pay, and COVID testing site-related overtime, the council pointed out that SPD spent past its approved overtime budget during last summer’s protests and left other costs unpaid until the end of the year. The resolution expressing the council’s intent to cut $5.4 million from SPD’s 2021 budget was largely an effort to dissuade SPD from similar overspending in the future.

A month earlier, the council had approved a larger slate of reductions to SPD’s 2021 budget—a $21.5 million cut proposed by the mayor, and a $12.7 million cut added by the council. Most of those cuts reduced SPD’s staffing budget, shifting the salaries reserved for vacant positions and the salaries of officers leaving the department to the city’s general fund.

Diaz argued that while his department can work within a constrained budget, the proposed $5.4 million cut would leave the department unable to adapt to its smaller workforce and could spur more officers to part ways with the department; since the beginning of 2020, SPD has seen more than 200 officers retire or transfer to other agencies—twice as many departures as in 2019. “The continued cuts to the budget, especially those not matched with efforts to reduce the duties of the department, will only drive further staffing losses,” Diaz said. “I can’t plan around a budget that’s constantly changing,” he added.

According to both Diaz and Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, who appeared alongside the interim chief during Tuesday’s presentation, rising attrition—and, Diaz added, a growing number of older officers who are taking medical leave to “burn time” before retirement—have already created serious holes in the department. Continue reading “SPD Argues Proposed Budget Cut Would Lead to Crisis “Beyond Mitigation””

What’s Next for Participatory Budgeting in Seattle

The Priorities for City Investments Identified by the Black Brilliance Research Project

By Paul Kiefer

After six months and a trio of lengthy reports to the Seattle City Council, the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) has come to an end. The two researchers who led the project, Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe, appeared before the council last Friday for their final presentation, which gave a few glimpses at what lies ahead: An ambitious effort to put a city-wide participatory budgeting process into motion by August.

Participatory budgeting is a form of direct democracy in which residents generate city spending proposals. When the council first embraced the idea last fall, the idea was that it would go hand-in-hand with divestment from policing and reinvestment in community-based public safety. The preliminary research would create a working definition of “community safety” and a blueprint for the participatory budgeting process itself, and Seattle residents would get the opportunity to suggest public safety investments—things like emergency housing for domestic violence victims and youth mentorship programs—for which they could vote later in the budget cycle.

Last fall, the council allocated $30 million to pay for participatory budgeting and the winning project proposals themselves; if successful, it will be among the largest participatory budgeting projects in the United States.

But while the BBRP team has spent the past six months conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups on a set of high-level priorities that will “guide” participatory budgeting, Glaze and Severe told the council that most of the legwork needed to get the program up and running still lies ahead—as do some steps that the researchers initially planned to tackle over the past six months.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

By March 16, council staff and the research leads—with some input from the city budget office and mayoral staff—are supposed to have hammered out the details of a spending plan for the participatory budgeting process. The money for that process will come out of the $30 million, and the final BBRP report also suggested setting aside 20 percent of the available funds to cover unexpected expenses. Whatever remains once the process comes to an end will be available to fund winning project proposals.

The proposed overhead would be significant: In addition to paying for promotional materials, translation, and software development, the researchers’ final report also outlined a plan to pay as many as 37 staffers to collect and review project proposals and encourage residents to participate, among other tasks.

Those new staffers would include the seven members of the “steering committee,” which Glaze and Severe said will create the rules for participatory budgeting, as well as 25 full-time members of five “work groups” and up to five full- or part-time city employees.

According to the BBRP proposal, seats on the steering committee would be year-long, and most members would receive a salary similar to a City of Seattle Strategic Advisor 2, in the range of $100,000 per year, based on a current listing for a strategic advisor position with the Office of Civil Rights, because of their roles as project managers.

But while the BBRP team has spent the past six months conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups on a set of high-level priorities that will “guide” participatory budgeting, Glaze and Severe told the council that most of the legwork needed to get the program up and running still lies ahead—as do some steps that the researchers initially planned to tackle over the past six months.

To choose the members of the steering committee, Glaze and Severe outlined a complex process in which a group of decision-makers will allot points to applicants based on their lived experiences; people with disabilities, Duwamish tribal members, trans or non-binary people, and Black women are among the groups who would receive points because the researchers have determined that their experience is vital to the success of the committee. Who the decision-makers would be, and how they will be chosen, is still unclear. After allocating points to applicants, the group of decision-makers would choose ten applicants from a pool of those who receive high enough scores at random, according to Glaze, to form a “jury” that would then choose the members of the steering committee from the remaining high-scoring applicants.

 

According to the BBRP’s report, applications for the positions will open in March. Excluding the city employees who will provide support for the process, the BBRP’s outline for a participatory budgeting process would require a staff nearly as large as Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights.

Once formed, the steering committee is supposed to create job descriptions for the full-time work group members. Members of the “accountability work group,” for instance, would “monitor and receive feedback” about the decisions made by the steering committee; a second group, called the “lived experience work group,” would “ensure the participatory budgeting process is aligned with the lived experiences of community members.” Continue reading “What’s Next for Participatory Budgeting in Seattle”