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Balloon payment: Seattle owes cops $65M under new budget

(Associated Press)

The celebration over the hard-won contract with the Seattle Police Department will give way to the stark financial reality on Monday when Mayor Jenny Durkan presents a city budget with one new and expensive line item: $65 million in wages benefits owed in a balloon payment to local cops.

The money — $61 million for wages dating back to 2015 and another $4 million for pensions — comes as part of the new contract that made the SPD the highest-paid police officers in Washington state. Because the police operated without a contract or a raise for the past three years, the city owes the additional money back-dated to expiration date of the former contract.

Last year, the city spent $1.2 billion from its general fund. When Durkan unveils her proposed budget for the coming year, the balloon payment for the police will loom large as it is already earmarked in the contract that the officers’ guild overwhelmingly approved Thursday. In other words, it will be nearly impossible to change at this point. But the city council still has to approve the contract and, eventually, the mayor’s proposed spending plan.

“The tentative agreement is part of Mayor Durkan’s balanced budget,” Durkan’s spokesperson, Stephanie Formas, confirmed in an email. “As the Mayor will discuss on Monday, she worked to find efficiencies in every department, including SPD, to reinvest in her priorities.”

Given the size of the payment — and additional costs the city already is facing with the homeless crisis, among other cost increases — it has some people wondering if a city that has been awash in new sales tax and permit money for the past five years will have to trim existing programs this year. Is that what Durkan means by ‘efficiencies?’

One City Hall lobbyist, who asked to remain anonymous, thinks so.

“This is going to lead to some department infighting when the budget gets hammered out. The wish list and reality are not on the same planet.”

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