Just a week after the conclusion of a battle over “rebalancing” the current city budget, the 2-month process of working on a new budget has just begun. Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s proposal is now public, released in connection with the prerecorded speech you can watch above. Here’s the 751-page document:
Reporters got a preview this morning, with the mayor as well as city budget director Ben Noble and staff; we participated. It’s a $6.5 billion budget – about $2 billion of that for the city-run utilities. While the mayor says the COVID-19-caused shortfall will be largely covered by the new “JumpStart” tax, she also said more than once that it’s time to get busy on a city income tax.
From both the briefing and our scan of the document, here are some specific points of interest:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE: The budget proposes $100 million – the $70 million recently advanced by a City Council vote, and $30 million more. We asked at the briefing, what happens if it costs more to get the bridge back in service, whether by repairs or replacement? Noble said they’re well aware they’ll likely need to spend more, and SDOT is working on that. The mayor added that they’re hoping for state/federal assistance – the former in recognition of the bridge serving the port, “the heartbeat for much of the commerce in the Pacific Northwest,” the latter because they already have “broad support” from our state’s congressional delegation. “In any other year, this would be” the budget headline, Durkan observed, but this year, the pandemic and the fight for equity are atop the list. She also noted that the city is working on “ways to help businesses” as well as mobility issues for people ‘including front-line health-care workers.” Another bridge-related expenditure mentioned at the briefing: $4 million to continue stationing an extra Seattle Fire ladder truck and medic unit on this side of the Duwamish River while the bridge is out.
PARKS: With so much park property in West Seattle, this spending is always of interest. The mayor’s budget anticipates only opening four of the city’s 10 swimming pools next year. Southwest Pool is one of them, but this means Colman Pool will be closed for a second year. Hiawatha Community Center will be closed all year, though that’s planned in connection with the stabilization work. The budget also proposes converting Alki Community Center from a full-service community center “to a childcare and preschool hub,” which would save $100,000 in operating costs. Many capital projects will remain deferred – West Seattle has several in waiting, including three landbanked parks (Junction, Morgan expansion, and 48th/Charlestown). The prospect of a new Park District levy – deferred for a year though the current one is expiring now – might be needed to raise money for capital projects.
POLICE/LAW: The City Attorney’s Office plans to go back to combining the Precinct Liaison positions for the South and Southwest Precincts. As for the public-safety-reform big picture, from the “budget book” overview:
• The Seattle Police Department was budgeted for 1,422 sworn officers in the 2020 Adopted budget, but will only be funded for 1,400 in 2021. The IDT referenced above will work in the fall of 2020 and into early 2021 to assess the appropriate force size for the long run.
• SPD’s Parking Enforcement unit and its 120 employees will be transferred to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
• The Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates the City’s efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and emergencies, will be moved out of SPD and become an independent office.
• The existing 9-1-1 Communications Center, currently housed in SPD, will also be transferred out into its own independent, stand-alone unit. As non-sworn, community-based alternative responses to calls are developed, the 9-1-1 Communications Center, now to be called the Seattle Emergency Communications Center, will be crucial in dispatching those responses.
• The 2021 budget will make permanent the transfer of the Seattle Police Department’s Victim Advocacy Team to the Human Services Department (HSD). This transfer was initially made by the City Council in the 2020 2nd Quarter Supplemental Budget Ordinance. This team is comprised of 11 FTEs and a budget of $1.25 million. These resources will be added to the proposed new Safe and Thriving Communities Division in HSD.
(Here’s how Chief Adrian Diaz summarizes it.) The mayor said she’ll unveil her vision for the future of the homelessness-addressing Navigation Team separately, soon. Meantime, no, there is NOT any proposal to close the Southwest Precinct, as once suggested by the former chief. Its operational budget is in for $17 million, down from $18 million this year.
SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY: One thing noted in passing during the briefing, and also underscored in the “budget book” (page 147) – some library-levy dollars that were supposed to go toward expanded hours will instead be shifted to cover basic services/operations. So that could mean reduced hours once libraries are fully open again.
OTHER DEPARTMENTS: We’re still reading! More coverage to come.
WHAT’S NEXT: The budget proposal goes to the City Council, and they start almost two months of meetings, hearings, proposals, and counterproposals. First meeting is tomorrow, 9:30 am – here’s the agenda. Meantime, there’s of course a lot more in the budget, and we’ll