Durkan didn’t adequately fund her budget, so Mosqueda had to make some tough cuts.
Look bruh I had to cut the IT Department, too, so chill screengrab from seattle channel

Six weeks ago, Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled her budget proposal, which included a $2.4 million refund to the Seattle Police Department. As she did so she sent a strong message to the council, the majority of whom voted to cut the department’s budget last year: “I believe it is a false choice to say we must choose between investing in effective community alternatives or investing in having enough well-trained police officers.”

On Tuesday, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda revealed the council’s response in the balancing package, with 133 individual items in the package narrowed down from the 190 amendments the council offered in negotiations. As it stands right now, the council proposes cutting $10.8 from Durkan’s police department funding proposal mostly by declining to fund more officers than they think will stick around.

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“What we've tried to do in this budget here is reduce the chances that folks are interacting with officers in the first place,” Mosqueda said in the budget committee meeting Wednesday morning.

To defund or not to defund

The $10.8 million cut is not the final number – the council will continue tweaking its proposal until November 22, when they adopt a budget – but the mayor and mayor-elect Bruce Harrell had plenty to say about it.

Durkan blamed the council for the retention issues at SPD after they promised protesters from the largest civil rights movement this country’s streets have ever seen to defund SPD by 50%. The council has not made good on that commitment.

Durkan said that cutting SPD is not a “plan for true public safety," adding that she wanted to scale up alternatives but still have police officers. The council also wants police officers.

Harrell asked the council to reverse the proposed cuts. He interpreted the conservative blowout of last week’s election as Seattle “resoundingly and unambiguously” rejecting further efforts to reduce funding for SPD in exchange for more funding for police alternatives.

The Solidarity Budget, a community proposal signed by more than 200 community organizations that pushes for progressive values, called for even greater cuts to SPD’s budget. In the Solidarity Budget meeting Tuesday night, Nikkita Oliver, who lost the race for a citywide council seat, rejected Harrell’s post-election analysis. They reminded participants that only about half of registered voters cast a ballot this election. Of those voters, 47% picked an out-and-proud abolitionist for City Attorney over a law-and-order Republican. Oliver, also an abolitionist, won 46% of votes.

“We know that there is no mandate coming out of this election,” said Angélica Cházaro of Decriminalize Seattle. “Bruce Harrell and Mayor Durkan can say whatever they want, but we're gonna keep pushing so that the initial $10 million investment that is already in the balancing package actually gets voted through, and that council members don't start dialing back.”

Cházaro said the progressives are “already winning” considering the SPD budget is still smaller than it was in 2020 and the council proposed even less money than the mayor. She encouraged the meeting attendees to speak at the public hearing to tell the council to “keep up the courage.”

Durkan’s dinky budget makes council look like antifa

Some people love the cut, some people hate it, but Mosqueda aimed to carefully reassure the city that she only cut SPD’s funding to balance the budget due to a new forecast.

Last week, the City Budget Office (CBO) confirmed council concerns when it showed that the mayor did not adequately fund the items she proposed in her budget. Durkan had used an optimistic forecast from August, but the newer forecast projected a decrease of $15 million in general fund revenue. A member of central staff attributed that shortfall — less than 1% of the general fund — to a delay in returning to in-person work, which drove down revenues from the payroll tax, sales taxes, and parking fines.

Mosqueda said she looked at all departments with the “same level of scrutiny” when it came to cuts — she didn’t just take money from the cops, she also took from the IT Department.

The package also proposes a reduction in funds to the coming Triage One program, which would give 911 call center operators the option to dispatch a team of civilian responders to low-acuity, non-medical crises instead of police. Durkan proposed $2.15 million for that, and Mosqueda wants to knock that figure down by $948,000. In the debate on public safety that divided the ballot this election, this is not a victory for the conservative slate, the progressive defunders, or even the council, who seems caught in the middle.

Mosqueda said the council has “every interest” in the success of the Triage One program, but it will not be operational until December 2022 at the earliest.

“It is not a cut to the program, but it's basically capturing dollars that would have otherwise sat on a shelf,” she said.

Antifa definitely did not press the council to make these cuts lol

Though people throw the word “cut” around a lot, it’s important to note that the council’s “cuts” do not refer to the 2021 budget but rather to Durkan’s initial proposal. While this initial package suggests a $10.8 million cut to Durkan’s proposed SPD funding, the move would only amount to an $8.4 million cut from the 2021 budget.

The first thing on the chopping block: $1.1 million for hiring incentives.

Durkan’s original proposal gave more money to SPD to stop the department from hemorrhaging officers. Such a believer in bonuses, Durkan recently issued an emergency order allowing SPD and the Community Safety and Communications Center to offer hiring incentives of up to $25,000 for lateral hires and up to $10,000 for new hires. Her office seems pleased with the results.

The balancing proposal would also cut $1.24 million from SPD’s technology projects. The mayor’s 2022 proposed budget included $5 million in funding for seven different technology projects, and the council would remove funding for two of them.

“When we are looking at a budget deficit, again of $15 million, and the crisis that people continue to live in, investing in new technology … felt like a potential nice-to-have in the future, possibly with some additional analysis, but not necessary to have in the moment of crisis when people are suffering and we need to make sure that every dollar is being deployed to assist our community,” Mosqueda said. “That's where that decision was made.”

Durkan wanted to hire six new full-time employees and buy new vehicles for the Community Safety Officer program, but the balancing proposal would snip $1.25 million, which would pause Durkan’s expansion. The cut would not remove existing CSOs, but even with the council’s goal to fund alternatives to police officers, this “pause on expansion” did not seem to please anyone.

In September, the council allocated unspent SPD funding to beef up the CSO program. Mosqueda, a fan of the project, thanked the CSOs after staff explained the pause on expansion.

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What perhaps ruffled the most feathers on council was a proposed $2.7 million in salary savings. Mosqueda and Central Staff were careful to emphasize that the balancing proposal fully funds the hiring plan for 2022, including 125 recruits and lateral hires, but it assumes more separations than Durkan.

In 2021, the council planned for 114 separations. By the end of the year, well over 150 officers will leave SPD. Using the same 2021 forecast and adding 12 more estimated separations from the 80 unvaccinated officers currently looking for accommodations, the balancing package assumes 126 separations, while Durkan’s only assumes 94.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold argued that attrition is slowing, and others worried about how that 126 number was projected.

“The department has indicated that there is no statistical way at this point that they can predict, using the past, what the future might look like,” said Public Safety & Human Services committee coordinator Greg Doss. “The swings have been too great lately, and so being able to look at the history and come up with any kind of way to look forward and say what is reasonable, from a statistical standpoint, really is difficult at this point.”

The remaining $4.5 million of the $10.8 cut will come from salary savings and other efficiency savings that the department will have to figure out.

During the November 10 meeting to discuss the balancing package, the council heard from some of its least ACAB members. Councilmember Debora Jaurez, who did not vote last year to cut SPD’s budget by 17%, said she was “not inclined to support cutting hiring incentives,” but the other cuts made sense. Councilmember Alex Pedersen called some of the proposed cuts concerning.

“I'm concerned about 911 response times and the need to staff large events and to provide the resources needed to retain officers, and also as we look to finalizing the next permanent chief of police, and I really appreciate the additional context explanations today,” Pedersen said. “I do feel like there's still some uncertainty, it is hard to predict what's going to happen.”

Councilmembers have until Friday to submit any changes. Because Mosqueda’s budget is balanced, if a council member wants to rollback a cut, they’ll have to propose a cut elsewhere. At this point, coordinating a brand new, realistic cut would be a nightmare, so it is more likely that councilmembers who want to restore funding to SPD would suggest putting less money in the reserve or reducing one of the additions in Mosqueda’s budget, like a $100 million bond for major maintenance projects, or $50,000 to add pickleball lines to 25 tennis courts managed by the Parks Department.