Seattle council approves 2020 budget for homelessness, prolific offenders, more
Nov 26, 2019, 7:51 AM | Updated: 8:25 am
Seattle City Council approved the city’s nearly $6.5 billion 2020 budget late Monday.
This is the first time Seattle’s budget has cracked the $6 billion mark, and the first time it’s ever included more than $100 million for homeless services.
Overall this is about $600 million more than last year’s budget.
“I want to thank the Council, and particularly Budget Committee Chair Sally Bagshaw for her leadership,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement following the budget’s passing. “Working with City Council, this budget invests in our shared priorities like expanding access to opportunity for young people, more affordable housing, addressing homelessness, advancing public safety, and more transit.
“Investments like these are critical to building a city of the future. Our budget says what kind of city we want to be, and we’re delivering on programs to advance our shared priorities,” she added.
Among the highlights include about $1.5 million to to attract and retain Seattle Police, money to dramatically expand city-subsidized childcare, and a new Uber and Lyft tax that is expected to bring in about $25 million a year for things like affordable housing, transit and help to create a driver resource center for ride-share drivers.
A conflict could brew in the days ahead between Seattle City Council and Durkan — the former would like to use funds from the tax for transit services sometime in the next six years, while the latter would prefer to pour that money into the 1st Avenue streetcar project.
Uber spoke out against the tax shortly after it was approved, noting that it “will most impact those who rely on rideshare as an affordable and reliable transportation option, as well as the thousands of drivers who earn income from rideshare.”
Mobile bathrooms and tiny home villages
Also among the more interesting items was over $1 million for five mobile bathrooms. This was added to the budget just a couple of weeks ago, and as an effort to address the issue of human waste on city streets. About 6,500 reports of human feces were fielded just this year by the Downtown Seattle Association.
Among the big winners this year were tiny house villages. While there was not the dramatic $12 million expansion Councilmember Kshama Sawant had initially proposed, there is $2 million in the budget to expand the popular transitional housing avenue.
More than $800,000 of that came from a proposal by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.
“We’re now able to take advantage of the fact that we know these are effective temporary housing options that have shown to be frankly 10 times more effective than other types of shelters,” noted Mosqueda. “Forty percent of people who exited the city-funded tiny house villages got into housing.”
“We want to what’s effective, and we want to do what’s humane,” she added.
The expansion comes as the city also prepares to close a controversial tiny house village in Northlake. Mosqueda pointed out that decision was not something the council was allowed to address in its budget.
She also would like to see tiny homes continue to expand in 2020 once the new council is seated.
Addressing prolific offenders
A total of $6 million from the city — plus an additional $1.5 from the Ballmer Group — will give the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD) the money it needs. The program has been a hot topic throughout this budget process, as the city has searched for solutions to ongoing issues with repeat, “prolific” criminal offenders.
King County prosecutor and LEAD program manager Lisa Daugaard explained to the council early in the budget process that the diversion program for low level offenders was over-stretched, and forced to to turn some referrals away. That was due to case workers handling close to twice the number of people they are meant to. Typically, case workers are supposed to handle between 20 and 25 cases. By the end of the year, most will have 50.
With additional funding approved by city council, Daugaard hopes to be able to address those issues.
“Everyone knows that the right thing to do is to engage with an individual and use jail and court as a last resort,” she described. “We’ll be able to say ‘yes’ to those priority referrals, and we’ll also be able to address the current case-loads for case managers.”
Seattle City Council passed the budget 8-1, with Councilmember Sawant acting as the lone vote in opposition. Sawant claimed the 2020 budget wasn’t a “moral” document, citing what she viewed as regressive taxes, and a lack of measures to address housing.
It will next cross Mayor Jenny Durkan’s desk for final approval. In total, the council made roughly $25 million in changes to Durkan’s originally proposed budget.