Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2022 budget plan would add police officers and allocate the lion’s share of Seattle’s remaining COVID-19 federal assistance to affordable housing while using revenue streams that have mostly recovered from the pandemic to sustain the city’s existing programs and services.
Durkan unveiled the multibillion-dollar plan Monday as she delivered the last annual budget speech of her mayoral term. She declined to seek reelection this year.
The federal assistance would, under Durkan’s plan, help Seattle spend a record $200 million on affordable housing. City Hall declared a homelessness emergency years before COVID-19 hit.
“We will keep Seattle safe and move our economy forward,” past COVID-19, Durkan said in her speech, which was delivered by video from North Seattle College and which ran only six minutes. “We’ll use this crisis to close disparities, not let the gaps get worse.”
The mayor’s 2022 plan, which the City Council will spend the next two months reviewing and modifying, would allow the Police Department to add a net of 35 officers next year, according to the city’s budget office.
Under the plan, the Police Department’s average officer count could grow to 1,230, assuming 125 officers are hired and 90 leave. Seattle’s budget this year included funding for 1,343 officers, but many spots are vacant due to rapid attrition and slow hiring.
Debate about whether to grow or shrink the force was a major point of contention during the council’s budget deliberations last year in the wake of racial justice protests sparked nationwide by police killings of Black people.
The Solidarity Budget coalition, a group of nonprofit and community organizations that lobbied at the time for City Hall to move funding from the Police Department to other needs, will make another push this year, representatives said in a summit they held Saturday. They’ll seek more money in areas like education.
Durkan’s 2022 budget would include about $1 million for officer hiring incentives, though the council recently rejected a similar proposal.
“This budget ensures we have enough police officers and alternatives to police interventions, particularly for people in crisis,” the mayor said Monday. “I hope the City Council joins me to support this approach … and not buy into false choices.”
Seattle has already used more than $300 million in COVID-19 federal assistance since the pandemic began but will have an additional $116 million from the American Rescue Plan Act available to spend in 2022.
Whereas the assistance in 2020 and 2021 has been mostly devoted to immediate needs, such as homeless shelters and food relief, Durkan’s plan would allocate $50 million next year to construct and acquire affordable housing, which usually means rent- and income-restricted apartments.
Smaller amounts would be allocated to other needs, including about $25 million for homeless shelters and food relief.
The mayor’s plan would allocate $115 million to the Human Services Department to address homelessness. That’s less than the $150 million allocated in the city’s 2021 budget. But many additional shelter spaces are scheduled to open in the coming weeks, Durkan said.
In 2022, more than 90% of the Human Services Department’s homelessness funding will — for the first time — be administered by the newly launched King County Regional Homelessness Authority.
“All of us, including me, are frustrated that it feels like any progress we made on homelessness was erased by the pandemic,” Durkan said. “With thousands of unsheltered individuals in our streets and parks, a shortage of housing and not enough treatment services, there are no easy solutions. But with steady regional, state and federal action, there is real hope.”
The council’s budget committee will dig into Durkan’s plan starting Wednesday and will hold public hearings on Oct. 12 and Nov. 10, with more details about the plan likely to emerge. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the committee, didn’t immediately comment on the mayor’s plan.
Neither did mayoral candidate M. Lorena González, the council’s current president. Her opponent, Bruce Harrell, said in a statement that he believes the city should dedicate the majority of its American Rescue Plan Act dollars to homelessness. It appears that Durkan’s plan would make “needed progress” on hiring police officers, among other aims, Harrell said.
Durkan’s entire budget would total $7.1 billion, including $1.6 billion in general fund spending. The total would be an increase compared with this year, partly related to bond financing of capital projects, whereas the general fund spending would be similar to 2021.
The general fund covers basic services such as policing, parks and shelters but not utilities and most transportation expenses. Seattle’s utilities raise and spend their own money, and certain revenue sources can only be used for transportation, so the general fund is where political battles occur.
A year ago, Durkan and the council raided emergency reserves to help close a budget hole blown open by the COVID-19 crisis. Now Seattle’s economy and tax revenues are recovering, though some sectors (tech) are doing much better than others (restaurants) and the Delta variant is a threat.
The city’s unemployment rate, which peaked at 17% in April 2020, is now 5%, and the real estate taxes that City Hall relies on to fund infrastructure projects have returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to the budget office.
The bounce back would, under Durkan’s 2022 plan, allow Seattle to start to rebuild its reserves. Meanwhile, the mayor’s plan would again, as in 2021, earmark $100 million for projects and programs aimed to some extent at people of color, including about $10 million for nonpolice, community-based safety programs.
The plan would accomplish that and other priorities by spending proceeds from Seattle’s payroll tax on high salaries at large corporations somewhat differently than the council may want to spend them, however.
The council, which passed the tax over the mayor’s objections in 2021, established rules in July that are intended to ensure most of the proceeds are spent on housing. Durkan’s budget would meet the spending targets set by the council in July by supplementing the payroll tax proceeds with COVID-19 federal assistance, her plan says.
Her plan would use real estate development fees and property taxes to fund housing, in addition to the payroll tax proceeds and federal assistance.
The Solidarity Budget coalition is calling for a 2022 plan that reduces spending on police and prosecutions by 50% and earmarks more than $600 million for affordable housing. It includes organizations like Decriminalize Seattle, Seattle Transit Riders Union, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Disability Rights Washington and Duwamish Tribe of Indians.
“The Duwamish were the first people to be homeless in Seattle. We join this coalition to call on the city to invest in other underfunded communities and bring an end to the authorization of policy that perpetuates inequities and displaces those communities,” Duwamish Tribal Councilmember Olivia Johnson said in a statement.