Seattle’s 2018 budget will boost homelessness spending and fund a safe- injection site for drug users.
Capping two months of contentious negotiations, the Seattle City Council signed off on a $5.6 billion budget Monday that boosts spending on programs to combat homelessness and funds a safe-injection site for drug users that elicited thanks and moving testimony from those closely affected by the opiod epidemic.
The budget, approved 8-1, also restores about 60 percent of the $1 million the council had proposed cutting from the incoming mayor’s budget last week.
Mayor Tim Burgess, who presented his proposed budget to the council in September, said the budget produced by the council was “fair, just and reflective of the values of Seattle.”
“It preserves adequate levels of human services and public safety funding. It also adopts accountability legislation that will help us track the outcomes of our many human services investments,’’ Burgess said in a prepared statement after the vote.
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He said he intends to sign the budget into law on Wednesday.
Burgess had objected to proposed cuts to incoming Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, currently staffed with 37.5 full-time positions.
The council on Monday backfilled some $618,000 for the mayor’s office with money from three city departments that had funds remaining in their budgets at year’s end, according to Erik Sund, the council’s budget coordinator.
The biggest source was the Department of Construction and Inspections, which had a $900,000 balance, he said.
Among other things, the 2018 budget:
• Raises city spending on programs that address homelessness to $63 million, a nearly 40 percent increase over four years ago;
• Boosts funds for more police officers;
• Channels $12 million more to pay for legal costs related to settlements and lawsuits against and involving the city;
• Adds four positions to the city’s Human Services Department, including a racial and social justice analyst whose research will help identify ways the city can achieve racial equity;
• Pays for a municipal-court program that connects inmates and the accused with a variety of social services. The $250,000 allocated for the program will come from a cut to the council’s legislative budget;
• Raises a variety of fees;
• Allocates $1.3 million for a safe-injection site for drug users, a subject that provoked emotional testimony in a day otherwise filled with numbers and legislative process.
One woman, speaking about her 27-year-old son who died of a heroin overdose while awaiting treatment, talked about how much shame he felt over his heroin use.
“You can no longer lead to recovery people who are no longer with us,’’ she told the council as people wiped away tears.
Councilmember Rob Johnson read the words of a constituent named Rose, whom he described as a first-year medical student at the University of Washington.
Rose cited public-health benefits associated with the sites, and told Johnson that her brother and his partner are both recovering addicts who will soon become parents. Twice, Johnson read a line from her letter into the record: “People who are suffering from drug use disorder are valued and loved by their family and friends, and they matter to society as a whole.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who voted for most of the changes to Burgess’ budget proposal, nonetheless voted “no” on the final budget. She said it didn’t do enough to help working people, and, in bruising comments, called out her colleagues for failing to tax big business and the rich.
After the vote, the council unanimously agreed to explore new “progressive revenues” that would target higher-income groups that have a greater ability to pay. Those taxes, which could include an employee head tax, would enable the city to get serious about the civil emergency related to homelessness, said Councilwoman M. Lorena González.
Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley drew big applause from several dozen in the audience when she stated that the only tax she would support would be targeted at businesses.
A group will study possibilities and present them to the council by March.
In a committee meeting earlier in the day, council members backed away from slashing Durkan’s office budget by 17 percent for 2018.
The unanimous vote to “recalibrate” proposed cuts to the mayor’s office came after Harris-Talley pushed back against the notion that the mayor’s authority was greater than that of the council
“These are two bodies who have equal weight and equal authority,’’ said Harris-Talley, who was appointed to the council in October after Burgess assumed the role of mayor not long after Ed Murray resigned amid sexual- abuse allegations.
Still, since her term expires next week when the election results are certified, Harris-Talley said she would respect the council’s desire to send a more conciliatory message to Durkan.
In other business, the council, by an 8-1 vote, approved Andrew Myerberg as the new director of the Office of Police Accountability.
In brief remarks after his appointment, which was opposed by Sawant, Myerberg said his office “will meet with anyone. Talk with anyone. Will go anywhere” to usher in what he described as “a new era of police accountability in the city.”