On the Budget Meeting Overviews

The Mayor's proposed 2021 budget overview, the SPD budget overview, Reimagining Public Safety overview, the Seattle Municipal Court overview, as well as potential areas of difficulty

Are you ready to talk about budget meetings?

First, the relevant Twitter threads.

This Twitter thread covers the budget overview presented on Wednesday morning.

This Twitter thread covers the SPD budget presentation this morning.

And this Twitter thread covers the Reimagining Public Safety presentation and Seattle Municipal Court presentation.


SPD Staffing Levels

My report on SPD sworn officers from the last newsletter was not completely accurate, so I want to go over the numbers now. The original 2020 budget included 1497 sworn officer positions but only funded 1422 of these positions, leaving the remainder unfunded and vacant. The proposed 2021 budget includes 1450 sworn officer positions but only funds 1400 of these positions, leaving the remaining 50 positions unfunded and vacant. Hence the confusion about whether the Mayor’s proposed budget includes the layoff of 100 officers called for in the Council’s revised 2020 budget. It doesn’t in practice, but the numbers aren’t straightforward.

SPD says that in order to maintain its current level of service and response times, it needs a minimum of 1400 sworn officers. It is important to note this number represents staffing needed if there is no decrease in the police scope of work. There is disagreement between the Council and SPD as to which staffing models should be used and potentially the timing of the shift of functions. SPD also wants to halt the current hiring freeze and start recruitment and hiring again in 2021 in order to maintain this staffing level. Otherwise with expected attrition they will fall below 1400 officers, and in addition, it takes some time to begin recruitment and training so needs to be planned ahead.

It’s also worth noting, in regards to the revised 2020 budget, the Mayor has asked the Council to reconsider the command staff pay cuts and has noted that the $200k cut to legally obligated hiring bonuses needs to be revisited, as it violates the City charter. You can read more here about the Mayor’s take on implementing the revised 2020 budget, including copies of the three recent letters on this subject from the Mayor’s office.


The Mayor’s Plan to Reimagine Public Safety

In an excellent example of the Seattle process, the Mayor is forming the Community Safety Work Group and the Functional IDT. The work group will formulate policy around reimagining public safety based on data and analysis, and the IDT serves the research and analysis function, as well as hopefully presenting an idea of what community wants from SPD. The Mayor presented a timeline for this work; going through the end of 2021, it is vague and repetitive and doesn’t present a very clear picture of what will be happening when.


Potential Issues

  • Although the General Fund is one big pot and can therefore be confusing to assess, it seems clear the $100m for BIPOC communities is coming from the new JumpStart tax revenue that had already been allocated to other purposes, mostly COVID relief in 2021. There is a lot of confusion around this, and lots of numbers being thrown around. There is concern this is taking money away from BIPOC groups that advocated for various JumpStart spending, therefore pitting BIPOC community members against one another. In response to this, community released a statement entitled “Towards a Solidarity Budget.”

  • Of the $14m the Council allocated for community organization ramp-up and gun violence prevention, $4m will be dispersed this year to organizations with already existing city contracts. Because she believes the rest cannot be spent by the end of the year, the Mayor has decided not to execute the interfund loan that was the major source of most of these funds, which the Council intended to repay next year, either with further SPD cuts or with JumpStart tax revenue. However, the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget has already allocated all JumpStart tax revenue while ignoring this obligation and has also already allocated any savings from SPD, so the Council will be forced to figure out how to pay for the remaining $10m.

  • A task force is being put together of BIPOC community members to recommend priorities for the $100m worth of investment into BIPOC communities. There is concern that this task force won’t truly be representative of the BIPOC community and doesn’t answer the demands for a true participatory budget process. The counter argument is that a participatory budget process takes about a year, and the Mayor wishes to get these funds out the door sooner, potentially by mid-2021. 

  • There is concern about having several parallel processes within the BIPOC community, one through this Equitable Communities task force of the Mayor’s, one through the research/PBP led by King County Equity Now funded by the Council, and potentially one led by the IDT for reimagining public safety. It is not known whether these processes will be complimentary, and how they could work together has not been determined. It is possible that a lot of work might be duplicated, or that work could be done at cross purposes.

  • There is concern that the Mayor’s various efforts divorce divestment (aka defunding the police) from the process of investment. Investment without divestment won’t lead to the same systemic changes overall and therefore will have a greatly reduced impact. In addition, this separation could cause various additional sources of confusion.

  • The Mayor says disbanding the Navigation Team could potentially violate the law as interpreted in the Hooper case and moves the SPD in the wrong direction by expanding its sworn officer duties for what should be services provided by civilians. The Council stated its intentions this summer that the money provided by disbanding the Navigation Team should go to community partners providing homelessness services, but it is unclear whether this investment is reflected in the Mayor’s proposed budget. At her town hall last night, CM Herbold said she was concerned because there was no plan to get this money out the door. This might become more clear at the overview on homelessness response presentation tomorrow morning (although I won’t be covering that myself.)


The Seattle Municipal Court Reforms

The Seattle Municipal Court is enacting various reforms that they think will help address current racial inequity:

  • Ending in-person day reporting

  • Moving to a collaborative Community Court model

  • Eliminating various discretionary court fees

  • Decreasing their Probation Services budget by 25%

  • Adding a contract social worker to help with the new Community Court and service referrals

  • Participating in a 3-year bail project


It will be interesting to see how these conversations develop! In the meantime, there will be a public hearing next Tuesday, October 6 at 5:30pm where you can sign up to give public comment on any issues related to the budget, including reimagining public safety. After the final budget overviews tomorrow, the next scheduled budget meeting currently on the calendar isn’t until October 15, when the Council begins their Issue Identification process. Of course, as always, that is subject to change.

Until next time!