As they do every year, the city council has begun the ritual of taking its scalpels (and, in some places, adding embellishments) to the mayor's city budget proposal. This year, however, the council is operating with the knowledge that Mayor Mike McGinn is on his way out, to be replaced in January by mayor-elect Ed Murray—and that's sure to be reflected in their amendments to McGinn's proposed budget.
Today's budget meetings (which ran virtually all day) provided the first look at how the council plans to amend the mayor's budget proposal. Here's a sampling:
• The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program—a privately funded program to keep low-level Belltown offenders out of jail and direct them to services, which McGinn has proposed expanding using public dollars—likely won't be expanded as fast or as dramatically as McGinn originally proposed, thanks to a factor we wrote about back in October: The program still hasn't been studied, so there's no way to know whether it's working.
Instead of providing the $1.7 million in city funds McGinn requested and potentially expanding the program to address crimes other than prostitution and low-level drug crimes, the council seemed inclined today to provide $830,000 in the first year to expand the existing program throughout downtown, limit LEAD to crimes involving drugs and prostitution, and potentially expand funding by up to $400,000 for the program in the future if its proponents can demonstrate the need for more funding. The proposal council members were leaning toward would serve up to 250 downtown clients.
The council also seemed inclined to provide $208,000 for a new "Multi-Disciplinary Team" that would link people with violent criminal histories or who are not actually committing crimes up with services, with a focus on minor crimes and street disorder. That program would be completely new.
Council member Mike O'Brien argued that the need to address offenses like trespassing and sleeping in parks is well-known downtown; therefore it makes sense, he said, to expand the scope of, and funding for, the program. "Frankly, it's the best thing we have going. The idea that we would take $600,000 away from a program that is the most successful thing and put it into a program that is not even up and running yet, and is not even planned to be studied," the Multi-Disciplinary Team, seems like a waste of resources, O'Brien said.
• Council members also seemed likely to eliminate a funding proposal for three new officers assigned exclusively to work with city Parks Rangers in downtown parks, and to add funding for: A new victim advocate in SPD to do case management for victims of sexual trafficking ($55,000 next year); new funding ($500,000) for external review of police management deployment (that is, how big SPD's patrol force is vs. its non-patrol force); funding for the search for a new police chief ($150,000), fundingfor eight new positions to investigate the department's use of force in response to the U.S. Department of Justice consent decree ($517,863), and funding for an audit to investigate the department's responsiveness to public disclosure requests ($300,000).
Regarding the three new patrol officers to help park rangers, council members pointed out that park rangers have only contacted SPD for backup 55 times in the last 18 months. "It's a little difficult to see how this level of assistance warrants the full dedication of three officers to the park rangers," budget chair (and ex-cop) Tim Burgess said. "It might make more sense to assign police officers to areas in the West Precinct where there are problems."
• The council also expressed support for providing funds for a new statistician in the city's personnel department who can look at the gender pay gap among city employees.
Overall, female employees at the city make about 9.5 percent less than men, although that differs dramatically by department (the police department, Seattle Municipal Court, the mayor's office, the city attorney's office, and the personnel department show particularly dramatic pay gaps) ; the new gender equity researcher would cost the city $81,000.
• There was also considerable back-and-forth about a proposal to eliminate $151,000 in funding for a program called Startup Seattle, which supports the growth of tech startups. While some council members (Jean Godden, Nick Licata) questioned why the city was favoring one industry (high-tech, which, as Godden noted, seems to be doing just fine and "appeals to one demographic quite a bit more than others), others, like Bruce Harrell, argued that "tech is a great equalizer" and should be encouraged.
• The council also seemed interested in a proposal to delay funding for the Center City Streetcar Connector and instead spend $1 million that would have gone to that project in 2014 on a downtown cycletrack network, a proposal that could slow down development of the proposed First Ave. streetcar between three and four months, council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen (who supported the shifting of funds) said.
• Finally, the council discussed spending $100,000 on a consultant to look at the impact of increasing the minimum wage. Licata said he'd prefer to hold off on studying the minimum wage issue until mayor-elect Ed Murray has had a chance to weigh in; Murray has said he supports an "incremental" approach to increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, a wage he said he only wants to apply to large businesses.
Want the details on all the council's latest budget machinations? Here they are, on the council's web site.