Budget balancing conundrums and SPD attrition

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Ready for some budget talk? Twitter went down during the budget meeting yesterday, so instead of a Twitter thread you can read my notes. You can also look at the slide deck for the General Fund Balancing Analysis presentation and read the memo.

Key points from the meeting:

  • The Mayor didn’t execute the interfund loan authorized by Council to pay for community investments in public safety. When preparing the 2021 proposed budget, it also appears she guessed the Council would sustain her veto regarding not making these investments. As a result, the budget she submitted is already out of balance by $13.1m, an issue that must be addressed.

  • The Mayor cut the $30m Strategic Investment fund in the 2020 Q3 Supplemental. This money, raised by the sale of the Mercer Mega Block, was supposed to be allocated for equitable development and affordable housing. Instead the Mayor used it to balance the 2020 budget. There is concern about erasing this $30m equitable investment fund, with a plan and team in place to allocate it, only to replace it with the Mayor’s $100m investment into BIPOC communities with a different plan, team, and process in place to allocate it. There were references to the Mayor “playing a shell game” and worries that once more this money wouldn’t actually be invested in the community.

  • The Mayor’s 2021 proposed budget involves draining the emergency and rainy day funds from $78.9m down to $6.1m. Ironically, CM Pedersen and CM Morales flipped from the arguments they were making about these same funds a few short months ago; now CM Pedersen thinks this is the time to spend those funds and CM Morales is worried it is reckless. It is hard not to see both these stances as more political maneuvering than anything else, but regardless, the fact remains that Seattle would have very little emergency money left over if this budget is adopted as presented.

  • For those wondering where the $100m to BIPOC communities promised by the Mayor is coming from, this presentation showed that, while it’s hard to pin down since the General Fund is all one big pot of money, it basically comes from the new JumpStart tax and the emergency funds.


In other news, at CM Juarez’s town hall, she said she couldn’t commit to having an outside observer at SPOG negotiations:

This is one of MANY reasons why the state legislative representatives you elect is critically important. Remember, you can use the the 2020 ACLU People Power Washington Voter Guide to help you.


Meanwhile the SPD is reporting record levels of attrition, with 39 officers and officers-in-training leaving in September alone, and 110 officers leaving during 2020. This reduces active SPD officers to 1203, much fewer than the 1400 Chief Diaz said the department needed to fulfill their core functions. It also raises the question of compliance with the consent decree, which requires a certain level of staffing in various units and to fulfill audits and use of force reviews. On the other hand, this increased level of attrition means the department is shrinking without active layoffs and bargaining with SPOG. The City Council will have to decide through the budget it passes whether to allow SPD to lift the current hiring freeze in 2021, although even if they do, it takes time to find and train new recruits. As Paul Kiefer says in the article:

If the mayor’s hiring freeze continues through the end of 2020, SPD and the Budget Office project that the department will fall short of the 1,400 officer threshold well into 2022, by between 20 and 50 officers. If the freeze is extended through the end of next year, their estimates project that the department could shrink to 1,260 sworn officers by January 2022.


The ACLU Washington has begun a blog series exploring the divestment/reinvestment approach to policing through a specific Seattle lens. You can read the introduction to the series now.


Next week, the budget issue identification meetings continue. The SPD will be covered on Tuesday afternoon at 2pm, and Community Safety will be covered on Wednesday morning at 9:30am. (Tuesday morning will be Parks and SDOT, while Wednesday afternoon will be HSD/homelessness/COVID response.) There will be chances for public comment at the beginning of the Council meeting on Monday at 2pm, and both Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30am.

Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you next week!