Facing COVID-19 shortfall, Mayor Durkan proposes cuts to SPD, pause on streetcar project

Jun 24, 2020, 9:07 AM | Updated: 9:09 am
Mayor Durkan Seattle Police hiring, revenue...
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. (Mayor Jenny Durkan, Twitter)
(Mayor Jenny Durkan, Twitter)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled her revised 2020 budget proposal Tuesday, with a handful of cuts designed to account for sizable shortfalls brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. Among the proposed cuts spanning nearly every city department is a 5% reduction to the police budget, as well as redirecting money away from the Center City Connector streetcar project.

King County stares down $20 million budget shortfall

The city is facing a $378 million gap in its budget in 2020 thanks to the ongoing pandemic, as well as another $300 million shortfall in 2021. Mayor Durkan’s proposal would have the city spend 25% of its rainy day fund in 2020, and then the rest of the fund next year to help bridge that gap.

Money would also be redirected away from other projects, including the city’s streetcar project, which would be paused to focus funds on the city’s budget shortfall, as well as necessary repairs on the West Seattle Bridge.

The mayor’s proposed cuts to the police department would total $20 million, accounting for 5% of its total budget, and 10% of its remaining budget in 2020. That encompasses $16 million that had been identified prior to calls from protesters and some city lawmakers to drastically defund the department, as well as $4 million in funds originally set aside for a new North Precinct facility.

This would include a freeze on spending for new vehicles and “IT investments,” as well as a halt on hiring new officers in 2021 “until a new staffing model and plan is developed reflecting community priorities for public safety.”

During that hiring freeze, Durkan is directing the department to “examine if bodies of work currently done by SPD should be eliminated and/or shifted to another City department,” and to assess personnel needs for different types of 911 calls.

Durkan also asked SPD to draw up models for possible 20%, 30%, and 50% budget cuts “for community engagement.”

How Pierce County’s ‘nimbleness’ has kept it functioning during shutdown

The proposed 5% cut to SPD’s budget represents a quantity far under what city councilmembers have proposed in recent weeks. In early June, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda intimated that “ideally,” the city would cut 50% of the police budget, investing that money back into housing, equitable transit, and homelessness.

Roughly 82% of SPD’s budget goes toward personnel, meaning that cuts up around 50% would likely result in the department laying off staff and officers. City council has yet to indicate what its own proposed cuts might look like in practice.

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Facing COVID-19 shortfall, Mayor Durkan proposes cuts to SPD, pause on streetcar project