Seattle City Council passed the 2018 budget on November 20th 2017. (Seattle Channel)

On Monday, the Seattle City Council passed a $7.2 billion budget for 2018. The city council heavily modified the mayor’s proposed budget before adopting a final version that shied away from some of the most dramatic changes, such implementing a “head tax” or slashing the Mayor’s Office budget.

Still, some relatively small investments could make a big difference. For example, the council, lobbied by Duwamish Valley Safe Streets, dedicated $600,000 to designing the Georgetown to South Park Trail, which would close a key gap in the safe bicycling and pedestrian network. The council also dedicated $150,000 to collaborations with  community land trusts and housing cooperatives, and it provided $50,000 to assist property owners in designing and implementing accessory dwelling units (e.g., granny flats and backyard cottages).

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chaired the city council’s budget committee, praised the budget and the work of her colleagues in pushing final legislation over the line.

“Together, my Council colleagues and I managed to pass several important amendments to the city budget that will meaningfully impact the lives of everyday people in Seattle, all while maintaining current service levels,” she said.

“The Council passed a number of items that ensured that essential services already in place will not be rolled back,” Budget Chair Herbold said. “These include but are not limited to keeping the doors open for an emergency shelter serving over 230 survivors of domestic and sexual violence, maintaining existing permanent supportive housing services, ensuring two transitional housing for homeless foster youth programs do not close, sustaining support for a homeless child care program, continued funding for homeless youth employment programs and resources to continue funding the Zero Youth Detention project.”

Councilmember Herbold pointed to the homelessness crisis, which has been a declared state of emergency for more than two years, to illustrate pressing needs.

“Simply maintaining these services is not enough, one needs to look no further than one’s place of business or own neighborhood to recognize that Seattle is in crisis,” Councilmember Herbold said. “In addition to the 4,619 people in shelter or transitional housing programs, there are 3,857 people living unsheltered in our community. This is why a sustainable progressive revenue source is so necessary.”

However, the $25 million Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal co-sponsored by Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Kirsten Harris-Talley did not make the final cut, at least for now. Some councilmembers felt that the legislation hadn’t had enough review and could miss the mark without further policy discussions and stakeholder input, particularly from affected businesses. Using the city’s business license powers, the HOMES proposal would have enacted an employee-hours tax (often referred to as a “head tax”) up to $125 per full-time employee on most businesses with gross earnings of $5 million or more per year. The bulk of the revenue would have gone toward funding housing programs for families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

Councilmember Lorena González sponsored a resolution committing the city council to passing similar legislation by March 26, 2018. The city council concurred with the resolution which sets the timing, expectations, and process for creating legislation. A task force will consider the issue and provide recommendations to the city council prior to passing final legislation and imposition of a tax is expected no later than January 1, 2019.

Aside from the HOMES proposal, there were other proposals that didn’t make the cut in any shape or form, including: studying the feasibility municipal broadband, replacing gas-powered leaf blowers with electric ones, additional funding for the arts, and outreach and education on upcoming unreinforced masonry building retrofitting requirements.

In terms of key budget line items, the city council made scores of changes adding and cutting programs. Some highlights include:


Planning and Community Development

Community and Human Services


Budget Tweaks Could Speed Transit, Homelessness Services, and Broadband Plan

Article Author

Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.