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Seattle City Council readies to cut policing budget, and more

caption: A Seattle Police officer watches counter-protesters as they stand behind barricades across the street from an anti-Islamic law rally Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Seattle.
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A Seattle Police officer watches counter-protesters as they stand behind barricades across the street from an anti-Islamic law rally Saturday, June 10, 2017, in Seattle.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The Seattle Police Department could face a budget cut of 5% this year, but much steeper cuts in 2021.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has asked police and city staff to develop scenarios this month for what it would look like to cut 20%, 30%, and 50%, respectively, of the Seattle Police Department's budget next year.

The current police budget is $409 million. The proposed 5% reduction means a $20 million cut this year, including a pause on developing a new North Precinct.

Durkan has also allocated $500,000 to gather community input on police funding and community investments.

Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales said Wednesday that the Mayor’s Office should work with groups like Decriminalize Seattle and the King County Equity Now Coalition to gather that input.

“The community groups that are on the ground doing the work should be resourced to do that work, because those are the voices we need to be hearing anyway,” she said.

Morales said the funding could be used to rent event spaces, and provide translators and child care.

City and Seattle Police Department staff provided more details to assist the council budget committee in its “inquest” of the police budget. They said Seattle Police spent $6.3 million in overtime to pay 1,269 employees for 72,619 hours of work during protests against racism and police brutality in Seattle May 29-June 9.

Council members have questions about Seattle Police's expenditures for crowd control weapons during the protests, weapons which they banned in legislation passed last week.

Councilmember Lorena González also asked the department to “disentangle armed law enforcement” from the cost of providing Community Service Officers, victim support, case management and other duties performed by unarmed civilians in its budget.

The department's budget director Angela Socci said they’ve started breaking out those categories and “will be well positioned” to provide that information in upcoming discussions of Seattle Police's 2021 budget.

Council members also asked for more information on costs related to staffing the navigation team that addresses homeless encampments, and city funds going to the Seattle Police Foundation.

“We’re not getting real answers,” Councilmember Kshama Sawant said. “I think at some point the Council has to say to the Seattle Police Department, your budget is no more than $200 million, which is already too much ...It’s your job to use those funds in a way that actually protects people.”

The Council postponed a presentation breaking out data around SPD’s 911 calls until next Wednesday.

Seattle Budget Office director Ben Noble told the City Council Wednesday that he can’t overstate the difficulty of balancing the city’s budget this year and next. The city’s budget shortfall combined with its Covid-19 response means a $378 million hit to the 2020 budget, which must now be “rebalanced.”

Noble said Seattle will prioritize emergency services related to the coronavirus pandemic, and programs focused on racial justice. Durkan has committed to $100 million in funding for Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities in the 2021 budget.

“We are evaluating funding sources for that,” Noble said.

And even after one-time sources of funding are used in 2021, the remaining unresolved gap next year is $164 million. Noble said across-the-board cuts of 10% would generate $90 million in savings.

“But we’d still be well short of balance,” he said. “New revenues could be part of that, and I know you’ve considered some options as well and the mayor is looking at some progressive revenue options, both to fulfill the commitment to the BIPOC community and potentially to address the shortfall.”

The council is debating two different payroll taxes that could generate between $200 to $500 million to fund the pandemic response and more housing.

Seattle parks and transportation projects will see significant budget cuts next year as the city channels levy funds to new uses. Noble said the city’s controversial streetcar project will be one budget casualty.

“We did want to highlight that one of those being paused, and don’t expect to restart, is the Center City Connector, which allows $6 million that would have been spent there to be reprogrammed elsewhere," he said.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold said the proposed budget still allows some aspects of the streetcar project to go forward, and said she’d like to make sure that the project is not only paused but cancelled.

The Downtown Seattle Association said in a statement on the Connector, "Seattle, like cities across the country, will be forced to cancel or suspend critical capital projects. That’s why it’s so important that the federal government take action to invest in infrastructure in our metro areas."

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