After voting last week to cut $1 million from the mayor's office budget, the Seattle City Council walked back about half of those cuts today before approving its 2018 budget.
The cuts approved during a committee meeting last week were set to shift money from the mayor's office to the city's Human Services Department, support for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, alternatives to incarceration, and other programs. That move set off a testy exchange between the council and interim mayor Tim Burgess, who called the cuts a "misguided surprise" that would undermine incoming mayor Jenny Durkan.
Today, the council found several workarounds instead of taking the full $1 million from the mayor's office budget. The primary new source of money: the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI).
That funding shuffle was the most significant last-minute action in what has been a chaotic budget process over the last few weeks.
In creating a draft budget, budget chair Lisa Herbold included a controversial tax on big businesses in order to fund social services. But the majority of the council rejected that tax, sending them scrambling to find other money. Herbold called it a "difficult and contentious process" with "no easy answers."
She and others are still pushing for a new head tax in the future. Seattle's "economic prosperity has not only failed to help everybody, but this prosperity is resulting in some people being harmed," Herbold said today. "I believe the beneficiaries of that prosperity must do more to address the impacts of that prosperity that has not been shared by all."
Some highlights from today's vote and the approved budget:
• The mayor's office budget shuffle: The council's budget now uses $436,000 from SDCI instead of from the mayor's office to hire four new staff in the Human Services Department. The council will also tap $150,000 in both SDCI funds and money set aside to enforce the city's new surveillance transparency ordinance in order to fund a program for parents trying to regain custody of their children from Child Protective Services. Another planned $50,000 cut to the mayor's office would have funded programs for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. That money will now come from the city auditor's office.
Tapping the SDCI funding will not result in cuts in that department. Instead, it uses money the department had set aside for future reorganization or new hires. Still, that move brought some concern from Council Member Rob Johnson, who chairs the council's planning and land use committee. SDCI handles permits for new building projects and inspects substandard rental properties.
With Seattle's pace of growth, it's one of the city's busiest departments. Johnson opposed cutting funds in the mayor's office and supported the SDCI move but said, "one of most common things we hear from folks, whether you're a market rate developer, affordable housing developer, or a single family homeowner, is how difficult it is for you to get time in our permitting department because it's so busy right now."
• Another step toward a supervised consumption site: In a move led by Johnson, the budget sets aside $1.3 million for a safe consumption site. That money can be spent once the Human Services Department has a site and plan for opening one.
Patricia Sully, an attorney at the Public Defender Association who has advocated for the sites, thanked council members today. "It's been 14 years since a council member first brought this up," Sully said. "There have been thousands of deaths, thousands of incarcerations, thousands, thousands, thousands of people have been harmed. It's time to end the harm."
• More funding for domestic and sexual violence survivors: The council added $1.15 million to fund programs that serve people who've experienced domestic violence or sexual assault. That's in addition to the $600,000 in increased funding for those types of services in the original budget proposed by Mayor Tim Burgess.
• No more $250,000 carpet: The council voted to remove $250,000 from its own budget, slated to be spent on replacing the carpet on the second floor of city hall, where council offices are located. That money will now fund the Seattle Municipal Court Resource Center. That center provides social services for people, including people experiencing homelessness who end up in municipal court.
• Tenant outreach: The budget includes $200,000 in new funding for tenant outreach. That will support an organization like the Tenants Union of Washington State to educate renters about their rights.
• Sweeps: The council rejected a proposal from Council Members Kshama Sawant, Mike O'Brien, and Kirsten Harris-Talley that would have significantly limited the instances in which the city can forcibly remove unsanctioned homeless encampments. Instead, the council approved a spending proviso that says the city cannot spend money on sweeps unless the city follows its own rules for those sweeps.
• LEAD: The budget includes $750,000 to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to north Seattle.
• Municipal bank: The city will spend $100,000 to study the creation of a public bank.
• Municipal broadband: Despite an early effort from Johnson to fund a city staffer to work on municipal broadband, there is no increased funding for that project in the budget.
• Sawant voted no: As per tradition, Sawant was the only no vote on the full budget. While each year she supports small changes to the budget, she argues the full budget prioritizes departments like the police over vulnerable people. "The budget as a whole remains overwhelmingly the same business as usual budget that has failed to meet the needs of regular people in Seattle year after year," Sawant said.
See a full list of the council's additions to the budget here. The budget will now go to interim mayor Tim Burgess for his signature. Incoming Mayor Jenny Durkan and Council Member Teresa Mosqueda will be sworn in on November 28.