Mayor-for-a-minute Tim Burgess presented his proposed 2018 budget to the Seattle City Council today, promising $600,000 in new funding for sexual abuse and domestic violence programs.
Former mayor Ed Murray's staff had largely finished the budget before Murray resigned on September 13 in the wake of allegations that he abused five men when they were teenagers. When Burgess took the oath of office to replace Murray, he was asked about calls from advocates for the city to increase funding for survivors of sexual violence. At the time, Burgess said he would defer to the council.
Burgess said today, "A person who has the courage to report a domestic assault should not have to fear that the law is going to leave them in limbo when it comes to getting the gun out of their abuser’s hands. Nor should a survivor of sexual assault...have to worry that our mayor’s office, or any part of our city government, is not sufficiently invested in the task of helping those who come forward to report such abuse."
While on the city council, Burgess and nearly all of his colleagues said very little about the allegations against Murray between the news breaking in April and Murray's resignation in September. Unlike Council Members Lorena González and Kshama Sawant, Burgess did not call on the mayor to resign or raise concerns about the way Murray portrayed his accusers.
The city council will spend the next two months debating possible changes or additions to the budget.
Here are a few key takeaways from Burgess's budget proposal:
• New money for sexual and domestic violence programs: The budget includes $500,000 in new money for outreach to adult and child survivors of sexual abuse and $162,000 for Seattle’s Domestic Violence Firearm Surrender Program.
According to Burgess's office, the outreach funding would be focused on "flexible and mobile advocacy," particularly for survivors who are immigrants, refugees, LBGTQ, or people of color. The firearm surrender program funds enforcement of court-ordered surrenders of firearms for people convicted of domestic violence. The new funding will add a program manager position to "coordinate the city's response" to firearm surrender.
The budget also includes $24,000 for domestic violence detectives. The city is already in the process of hiring 200 new police officers. This money would be used to cover the cost of making four of those officers detectives, according to Burgess's office.
• Figuring out how to create retirement plans for workers whose bosses don't offer them: Burgess has long wanted the city to create a portable retirement program. That would give workers whose employers don't offer retirement programs a way to pay into a retirement plan and then take that savings account from job to job. About 40 percent of Seattle area workers do not have access to a retirement plan, according to Burgess's office. The budget includes $200,000 for a "market feasibility study and legal analysis" of creating a program like that. From the mayor's office
The SRSP will be comparable to a defined contribution structure — like a 401(k) or 403(b) — where employees contribute to their own separate account and are responsible for selecting investments from professionally managed product options available in the SRSP. Employees will grow their retirement savings through additional contributions and investment performance. Accounts will be portable and remain with the worker if they change employers. Employers would perform a limited administrative function by processing payments of eligible employees to the third-party private administrator through their existing payroll system.
• Plans for how to spend new soda tax money: The city will raise about $14.8 million in 2018 from the recently passed sales tax on soda and other sugary beverages. Burgess today outlined how that money will be spent, mostly tracking with what Murray and the city council promised when they passed the tax. Among the spending this budget outlines: $2.7 million for programs serving new parents and children between birth and 3 years old; $2.4 million to Fresh Bucks, a program that allows food stamp recipients to shop at farmers markets; $1.38 million for food banks and meal programs; and $1.38 million to fund high school graduates' tuition to local community colleges. (Sugary drinks are disproportionately consumed by black and Latino people, raising concerns that the regressive tax is costing the very people city leaders claim it will help.)
• Increased funding for homelessness: The budget proposes spending $800,000 to create a second Navigation Team to focus on people living in vehicles and do a “needs assessment” to figure out what kinds of services people living in vehicles need. (The existing Navigation Team pairs outreach workers with police officers to contact people living in encampments before those encampments are swept.) For $110,000, the budget will also fund an outreach worker based at Seattle Public Libraries. The budget continues existing funding for sanctioned tent encampments.
In other homelessness news: Burgess said he would soon send the council legislation requiring that service providers who get city money for homelessness services meet certain outcomes. That’s part of the city’s controversial trend of trying to measure which homelessness programs should continue to get city funding.
If approved, this budget will bring the city’s total homelessness funding to $63 million next year.
• More money for the fire department: The budget includes funding for four new staffers at the Fire Alarm Center ($698,000), a new aid unit (basically: an ambulance) for north Seattle ($633,000), a new recruitment class for firefighters ($2.4 million), increased paramedic training ($271,000), and a replacement of the fire department’s backup dispatch system ($214,000). The Fire Alarm Center is located in Pioneer Square and staffed 24/7 with emergency responders. Call volumes there have increased 25 percent since 2003, according to the mayor’s office.
• More cops: The Seattle Police Department Budget would increase by about $10 million from 2017 to a total of $329 million. Part of that increase is the city’s continued push to hire 200 more police officers. The city first committed to that increase in 2014. Last year, the city council approved $13 million to add 72 new officers over 2017 and 2018. Burgess’s budget continues that funding but does not increase it. The budget would fund three new Complaint Navigators in the Office of Police Accountability to help people who file complaints against police officers ($416,600).
• Police reform: The budget will fund the newly approved Office of the Inspector General and four new staff for that office ($1 million), plus two new full time employees for the Community Police Commission ($110,000). Those positions are part of recently passed police accountability legislation. When that legislation was passed, police reform advocates worried that mayoral administrations could underfund those offices, hamstringing their ability to enact real oversight. The executive director of the CPC said the commission had not yet discussed the new budget but may comment later this week on whether they believe that’s sufficient funding.
• The city is spending a lot on lawsuits: In what the mayor’s office calls “one of the most significant emerging budgetary challenges,” the city has spent more than it previously budgeted fighting lawsuits against the city and paying out settlements. The budget includes $13.4 million to cover unanticipated legal costs in 2017 and 2018.
• Renters and landlords: The budget proposes $200,000 for a new Tenant Landlord Resource Center to educate renters about their rights in multiple languages. The city’s efforts to inspect rental buildings and prevent landlords from operating slum-like buildings have had some high-profile failures.