The Seattle City Council approved a new two-year city budget Monday. Highlights include more cops, more spending on homelessness and affordable-housing bonds.
The Seattle City Council approved a new two-year city budget Monday that includes money to hire more police officers and help more people experiencing homelessness, plus dozens of changes to the package Mayor Ed Murray proposed in September.
The mayor’s proposal of $5.6 billion per year, up from $5.1 billion in 2016, moved on mostly intact. The council generally makes additions and cuts around the edges of the budget while leaving alone core appropriations for salaries, public-safety, transportation and utilities.
This time, the adds included money for programs that support domestic-violence survivors and send Seattle high-school graduates to community college.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant cast a symbolic vote against the overall package after voting for specific changes. She said more should be done for poor people.
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Here are five things to know about the budget:
It includes money for more cops
When he took office in 2014, Murray said he wanted to expand the city’s police force by 100 officers in four years. He later upped that goal to 200 officers in six, including $13 million in his proposed budget to bolster the force by 72 officers in 2017 and 2018.
Despite demands by Sawant and some activists for the city to invest in social programs rather than a police department still carrying out reforms mandated under a consent decree with the federal government, the council let the hiring dollars through.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold suggested making the money for new officers contingent on the department’s giving preference points for the first time to recruits who are multilingual. The council rejected her approach in a committee meeting last week but may reconsider the matter next year, when the judge overseeing the consent decree allows Murray to send police-accountability legislation to the City Council.
The council did add $2 million to restart a community-service officer program. Under the program discontinued in 2004, the city hired civilians to help the Police Department by mediating low-level disputes, making social-services referrals and patrolling neighborhoods. Councilmember Tim Burgess pushed for the allocation.
It boosts the city’s homelessness spending
The mayor proposed that the city spend a record of about $59 million next year to combat the city’s homelessness crisis, up from nearly $50 million this year.
The council tacked on another several million dollars for human services. The funds will help open a new shelter, extend hours at an existing shelter and provide lockers and a Portland Loo-style restroom, a solar-powered sustainable urban toilet, for people living on the street.
Murray’s proposed budget included money to help open a San Francisco-style Navigation Center — a 24-hour shelter with case management, where people experiencing homelessness are allowed to bring their partners, pets and possessions.
Seattle has increased its spending on homeless services each of the last few years. Meanwhile, the number of people in tents and under bridges has climbed: In January, the area’s annual One Night Count tallied 2,942 people sleeping outside in the city.
Murray’s long-term plan to get people inside by spending more efficiently calls for the city to shift some money from transitional-housing sites to short-term vouchers that help families move from homelessness to the rental market. The council, though, added more than $200,000 to keep some transitional-housing sites running.
It tees up bonds for housing
When Herbold in the spring broached the idea of selling bonds to pay for affordable housing, it went nowhere. Then Sawant picked it up, amid controversy this fall over the city’s North Precinct police-station project. She said scrapping the project would give Seattle the wherewithal to sell $160 million in bonds and create 1,000 units of housing.
Only Councilmember Mike O’Brien backed the scheme, so it died in committee. But public enthusiasm for the concept gave Herbold another opening. She sponsored and the council agreed to a budget change setting up a $29 million bond sale for housing.
It slams the brakes on Pronto bike sharing
Pronto is pedaling into the sunset. The council chopped $300,000 off the beleaguered bike-share system’s 2017 operating budget and set a March deadline for the money to be used.
Transportation officials have been negotiating the terms for a contract with a Montreal-based company to launch a new system with electric bikes sometime next year. There may be a gap between Pronto’s demise and the new system, yet to be named, powering up.
O’Brien championed a $1 million bump for bike-infrastructure projects.
It takes back a tax break
The council had extra money to work with, thanks to updated revenue projections.
Eliminating a special tax break for international investment firms — created in 2009 to woo Russell Investments — also helped the council pass a balanced budget.
The Sawant-sponsored change will be worth an estimated $2 million next year.