After hours upon hours of budget briefings and nearly $200 million in added requests, the City Council has cranked out a counter proposal to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $5.9 billion budget.
The council made approximately $16 million in tweaks during its Nov. 7 meeting. Roughly half of that went to additions to the Human Services Department and homelessness spending. Any other adds would have to be balanced by cuts, said Seattle City Councilmember and High Priestess of Austerity Sally Bagshaw, this year’s budget chair.
Bagshaw did her best to temper expectations early and keep the meeting moving.
“The less said the better,” Bagshaw told her colleagues before thanking the room for not “bursting into tears” if their particular piece of pork didn’t get funded.
Most didn’t. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s proposal to construct a large tent as transitional shelter for homeless people, similar to ones set up in Tacoma and San Diego, wasn’t included in the final package, nor was Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s call for money to replace the roughly $47 million that would have come from the failed employee hours tax.
One group that will be happy with the budget, at least for the time being, is the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE), an organization that finds itself (and the 217 shelter beds it operates) on the chopping block nearly every year. Bagshaw’s balancing package includes enough funding to tide SHARE over until at least the end of 2020. Durkan’s proposal envisioned an end to city support by June 2019.
The City Council has intervened to save those beds two years in a row. The Human Services Department did not award money to SHARE during the 2017 competitive funding cycle, forcing council members to step in to keep the doors open.
A year prior, the group shut down for several months and created a protest encampment outside of the county administration building. They had budgeted for $75,000 from the county and United Way of King County, another large institutional funder, even though that money had been denied.
The other half of the new spending will go to cover contract inflation costs, boost funding for substance abuse disorder treatments and pay for day center operations, among other things.
The council also put in requests for reports on homeless encampments and information on a proposed rental subsidy program that aims to prevent eviction.
Council members stuck to the script and zipped through the lengthy list of additions and modifications, clearing them all in less than two hours. It was a different tempo from last year’s budget cycle, when then-budget chair Lisa Herbold attempted to tack funding for popular programs to the passage of a $25 million tax on businesses.
The proto-employee head tax faced loud opposition from the business community and ultimately didn’t pass, resulting in a mad dash to put together a new budget package from the dais. At the time, council members shot down the tax saying that they didn’t have enough information and hadn’t included the business community in their deliberations.
Seattle did manage to pass a business tax, but repealed it when threatened with a referendum.
Advocates have complained that the mayor’s budget still doesn’t treat homelessness in Seattle like the crisis it is, three years after the city and county leadership declared a state of emergency. They want more money for affordable housing and for direct spending on homelessness to at least keep up with inflation.
The mayor’s budget set aside nearly $90 million for homeless services, a $3 million bump from 2018 spending.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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