The Seattle City Council is proposing a package of changes to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2021 budget plan. The package would, among other moves, redirect tens of millions of dollars earmarked by Durkan, bolster the city’s emergency reserves and further trim the Police Department’s funding.
The council’s plan would also restore funding in other departments and boost spending on various social programs and capital projects.
The council’s budget chairperson, Teresa Mosqueda, crafted the package with input from colleagues. It became public Monday and will be discussed by the council’s budget committee Tuesday. Additional changes could be made between now and Nov. 23, when the council is scheduled to take a final vote.
Though Durkan and the council clashed repeatedly this past summer over budget matters, with the council overriding mayoral vetoes, Durkan signaled Monday she was ready to accept Mosqueda’s proposed 2021 changes.
The mayor and the council have been under pressure this year because the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted Seattle’s economic boom, putting the city in a revenue hole. The mayor’s office released an updated economic forecast last week that brightened the picture somewhat, providing the council with more wiggle room.
Durkan’s plan would reserve $100 million for undetermined investments in communities of color, and she appointed a task force of community leaders to advise on that spending. Mosqueda’s package would redirect $70 million away from that pot, though the council member said the money would still benefit communities of color.
With the redirected $70 million, the council member’s package would restore a $30 million real-estate equity program eliminated in Durkan’s plan; support a 2021 community-led participatory budgeting process and programs recommended by that process with $18 million; allocate $10 million for community-based responses to 911 and crisis calls; and shore up the city’s emergency reserves.
Under Durkan’s 2021 plan, the reserves would drop to about $3 million, down from more than $120 million at the start of this year. Mosqueda’s package would maintain about $35 million in those accounts, she said, noting Durkan built her budget with business-tax proceeds the council had previously tagged for the reserves.
“Knowing the volatility of the local economy and seeing COVID cases surging right now, we need to be prepared,” Mosqueda said in an interview.
In a statement Monday, Durkan credited last week’s updated revenue forecast for allowing City Hall to meet more needs. The mayor also indicated she wouldn’t battle the council over her $100 million pledge.
“Even in this difficult year, my budget set aside historic resources to meet the challenges of this moment. … The council’s amendments continue that historic $100 million for communities through slightly different community-led processes,” she said.
Mosqueda’s package would leave about $30 million to Durkan’s task force for undetermined investments in communities of color. Meanwhile, a council-supported research project led by the Black-led coalition King County Equity Now also is engaging Seattle residents on budget matters.
Durkan promised $100 million to communities of color in response to the Black Lives Matter uprising. Mosqueda and her colleagues have mostly sided with advocates who contend such investments should come from defunding the Police Department by 50%.
Mosqueda’s package would allocate about $30 million next year to programs to be recommended via participatory budgeting, partly with incremental cuts to the Police Department.
The package would expand eviction-prevention assistance and vouchers for fresh produce. It would add funding for tiny-house villages that shelter homeless people while restoring funding for Rainier Avenue South sidewalk repairs and for a public-safety coordinator in the South Park neighborhood. And it would add a third team to the city’s Health One program, which sends social workers with firefighters to assist people on the streets.
“What we have done is direct funding where there has been sustained demand. In housing, in health and in infrastructure,” Mosqueda said.
Several dozen police positions in Durkan’s plan are unlikely to be filled next year — despite hiring efforts — because a hiring pause this year and many officer departures mean the force will be playing catch-up. Mosqueda’s package would grab about $12 million by trimming those positions, reducing overtime and making some other tweaks.
“We’re trying to scale up our community response system while simultaneously making reductions to right-size” the police force, she said.
Her package also would repeat a council request from the summer for the Police Department to pursue 35 out-of-order officer layoffs; a city rule requires new officers to be laid off first, but the council wants the Police Department to apply for an exception that would allow officers with disciplinary records to be laid off first. Such layoffs would involve union bargaining.
The council’s Police Department trims, combined with about $40 million in transfers and $20 million in cuts in Durkan’s 2021 plan, could pare the department’s funding to as low as $340 million next year, down from $409 million in 2020’s initial plan. That would represent a decrease of about 17% — not 50% — with community alternatives to police still ramping up.
Mosqueda package wouldn’t stop the Police Department from hiring at least some officers in 2021, nor would it immediately enact mass layoffs.
“This summer, there were significant disagreements,” Durkan said in her statement, which struck a conciliatory tone. “With these budget amendments, I’m optimistic that we’ve turned a corner and can make collaborative, data-driven decisions that advance our shared policy goals.”
Mosqueda’s package would avert more than a dozen layoffs in other departments that were called for in Durkan’s plan, she said.
The mayor last week proposed a multimillion-dollar plan to increase trash pickups and maintenance in parks and public spaces. Mosqueda’s package would incorporate elements of that.