1. After hours of public comment opposing the transfer of 60 men from the downtown King County Jail to a regional jail in Des Moines called the South Correctional Entity (SCORE) yesterday, the King County Council approved the contract, with only Councilmembers Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Girmay Zahilay voting “no.”
County Executive Dow Constantine secured $3.5 for the transfer, which the county Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention has said will only include mentally and physically “healthy” men accused of low-level crimes, in last year’s budget, but the furor over the decision didn’t begin in earnest until this year, when legislation to move the first group of downtown jail residents came before the council.
The DAJD has said the transfer is necessary to improve safety and reduce workloads for guards at the downtown jail, where understaffing has become a chronic issue and where, as several council members noted Tuesday, some officers have resorted to sleeping at the jail during the brief time between their shifts. Opponents, including prison abolitionists and the union that represents employees at the county’s Department of Public Defense, argued that the move has the potential to endanger prison residents, limits their access to visitors and attorneys, and does little to solve the long-term issue of over-incarceration, including people who languish in jail waiting for competency restoration or because they can’t pay bail.
“[The DAJD has] worked tirelessly at making sure that the standards and the jails health services in a King County Correctional Facility are better than standards in most facilities throughout this country, Caedmon Cahill, policy director for the Seattle Office of Civil Rights, told the council. (Cahill was speaking as an individual, not a representative of OCR.) “That is why I have such concern with this council and the executive outsourcing this responsibility to another agency. I do not have faith that those that SCORE will come to you when they are not meeting your expectations.”
“We need to do more with getting our staffing in place, but we also need to take down this downtown jail. That can’t be done overnight, so we’re talking about short term solutions and long term solutions, but I don’t find the short term solutions really compelling. We’re going to be asked to put in more money, and more money, and more money, and [never] get to the solutions.”—King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles
But DAJD director Allen Nance said removing 60 people would make it easier for the department to ensure the safety of those who remain. “If we can move some people to SCORE, perhaps reduce the number of people that are in the in county jail by moving some folks to our [Regional Justice Center] facility, we can get to a place where we are no longer having to operate as much of the downtown jail as we have in the past, and we are in a better position to provide the level of service to the people who remain downtown in a way that is challenging for us to achieve today,” Nance said.
The agreement included several amendments that council members said would help mitigate its impact, including one sponsored by Councilmember Rod Dembowski that will require council approval for future transfers to SCORE and another, sponsored by council chair Dave Upthegrove, that will require the executive to get council approval for any future contract extensions.
Before the vote, Kohl-Welles, who will leave the council next year, said she expected that Constantine and the DAJD would be back with a request to expand the SCORE contract within a year. “We need to do more with getting our staffing in place,” she said. “But we also need to … take down this downtown jail,” something Constantine has pledged to do. “That can’t be done overnight, so we’re talking about short term solutions and long term solutions, but I don’t find the short term solutions really compelling. We’re going to be asked to put in more money, and more money, and more money, and [never] get to the solutions.”
2. The King County Regional Policy Committee, which includes elected officials from cities across the region as well as county council members, voted this week to put the six-year Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy on the ballot in August without increasing the initial rate property owners will pay if the levy passes above the current 0.01 percent (10 cents for every $1,000 of property value). The levy pays for housing, behavioral health care, and other services for veterans and seniors. A staff analysis, first reported on by Crosscut, showed that a flat levy renewal will cut the amount of affordable housing the levy can build by half, and fund ongoing operations at 45 percent fewer units than the current levy.
In contrast, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently proposed a renewal of the city’s affordable housing levy that would nearly triple the size of the levy, an increase that will only modestly expand the amount of housing the levy will build thanks primarily to the rising cost of construction,
Councilmember Rod Dembowski proposed several amendments that would raise the levy by varying levels—from .011 to .013 percent—but got no support.
In fact, the mayors of two suburban cities—Nancy Backus of Auburn and Angela Birney of Redmond—argued that renewing the levy at 10 cents per $1,000 actually represents an increase, because the current “effective rate” of the tax is just over 8 cents per $1,000. For context, it’s important to know that 10 cents per $1,000 was only the initial levy; it went down over the years as property taxes increased, because the county could raise the fixed amount of money the levy promised with a lower tax rate. Raising the initial level back to 10 cents per $1,000 will cost homeowners about 20 percent more, but that’s only because King County homeowners’ property wealth has skyrocketed over the past six years. If this levy passes, the effective rate will almost certainly decline as property values rise as well.
King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci voted for the 10-cent rate, but said she wanted to keep the tax level open for discussion when the county council’s budget committee meets to discuss the proposal later this month.
“I will support moving this out today with the rate as it is, but would like to set the expectation that we have a real discussion at the committee,” Balducci said . “I hope we don’t walk away from exploring this as deeply as it deserves.”