Seattle mayor's budget adds $20M back to police funding

It is the first increase in the Seattle Police Department's budget since the City Council began reducing funding in 2020


By Sarah Grace Taylor
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's first proposed budget expands funding for the Seattle Police Department by $20 million — largely by transferring parking enforcement back to the department — and uses payroll taxes to help fill a $140 million-plus revenue shortfall.

More than $740 million, nearly half of Harrell's proposed $1.6 billion general fund, is focused on public safety, consistent with the promises he has made in office and on the campaign trail.

The proposal, released Tuesday, adds $20 million back to SPD's budget, bringing it to $375 million — marking the first increase in the department's budget since the City Council began reducing its funding after police protests in 2020. The bulk of the increase comes from shifting parking enforcement back to SPD from the Seattle Department of Transportation, where it was moved after protests called for moving some public safety response outside of SPD.

"Too often, residents feel unsafe on the streets," Harrell said during his budget speech Tuesday afternoon, calling public safety the city's "core" responsibility. He did not answer questions after the speech.

Chrisanne Sapp, president of the Seattle Parking Enforcement Officers Guild, said the unit is pleased with the mayor's proposal to move enforcement back to SPD. The union polled members and Sapp said she's confident the announcement will be well-received among most officers.

"It's no secret we fought the move to SDOT the whole time," she said.

The switch back will be easy, she said. Aside from IT and payroll, very little actually transitioned to SDOT.

"We still work out of police facilities, our cars and our uniforms still say ' Seattle police,' we still work with Seattle police, we're still on police radio," she said.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold suggested Tuesday that the move back to SPD may be temporary.

Enforcement officers and the union repeatedly called on the City Council to transfer responsibilities to the Community Safety and Communications Center in 2020, so "that they could support the reimagining of public safety with their own workforce-driven division," Herbold said.

She only "relented" and moved them to SDOT, when it was apparent, she said, that the majority of her colleagues wanted to house them in the transportation department.

Herbold said Tuesday that she appreciates Harrell's recognition that the return to SPD may not be permanent as the city continues to develop a third community safety department.

Harrell is asking for nearly $2 million to go toward "diversifying" 911 response, though he did not identify specific additional alternative responses to receive that funding. A spokesperson for the mayor said the money would go to a "pilot project being created in collaboration with the city council, supporting 911 response diversification, including, but not limited to, infrastructure investments, capacity building, training, and policy implementation."

Harrell is expected to release a framework for a third public safety department, to be launched in 2024, by the end of this year.

The budget also requests that the City Council alter the rules around the recently established JumpStart payroll tax to free up around $95 million to help the general fund make up the revenue shortfall, caused in part by inflation and increased spending in recent years. The city's Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts will provide the council with an updated estimate of 2023 revenues and the shortfall in November.

Harrell's proposal, the first biannual proposal since the city temporarily switched to single-year budgets during the pandemic, would request similar JumpStart funds in 2024 to cover another anticipated shortfall. The administration says it will work with the council on establishing "progressive revenue streams" for the 2025 budget and beyond.

The budget proposes cutting funding for positions unlikely to be filled in city departments in order to pad the general fund. In SPD, those cuts would go back to funding the department instead of being added to the general fund.

Harrell's budget also aims to expand the understaffed Seattle Fire Department, adding $2.2 million to hire 30 more firefighters, for 90 total in 2023, and funding three additional paramedic recruits, bringing the department to eight total.

The mayor's proposal also adds $10 million for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, about a 13% increase, but falling short of the roughly $90 million the Authority requested from the city and county this summer. Most of the additional funds would be earmarked for expanding or maintaining shelters with an emphasis on tiny homes and safe parking.

Preserving existing shelter beds and tiny houses that would have been eliminated because of onetime funding was a key priority, said Jamie Housen, a spokesperson for Harrell.

"Other top priorities were to increase options to bring people inside, including noncongregate shelter capacity and creating additional spaces for people living in their vehicles. Sustaining the CoLEAD program model was also a focus," Housen said. CoLEAD is the COVID-era extension of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program.

The mayor's office presented the budget to the City Council on Tuesday. The council will take public feedback, make amendments and vote on a final budget by late November.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that she will focus on investments for working families and a budget that works toward "a Seattle where everyone is housed and cared for, healthy and safe, and supports workers and small businesses for a more equitable and resilient economy."

Mosqueda, who led the formation of JumpStart, said in August she would consider supporting the use of JumpStart to fill the revenue gap, if the intended spending priorities — affordable housing, Green New Deal, economic resilience, and equitable development — were maintained.

She said she believes the mayor's proposed budget complies with the 2023 and 2024 spending plan, though she is not ready to commit to the proposal yet as she must ensure the budget will maintain inflation increases for the Human Services Department staff and other policies consistent with the intent of JumpStart.

She said her priority is to fully fund JumpStart investments and that any money over what was expected goes toward core city services.

"In a budget year with a projected 2023 operating deficit of over $141 million, we must both do everything we can to prevent austerity cuts to core city services, while also evaluating whether the use of the higher-than-anticipated revenue aligns with our city's progressive values," Mosqueda said.

Seattle Times staff reporter David Kroman contributed to this report.

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