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:
- The city council is requesting a report identifying improvements to enhance speed and reliability of existing First Hill Streetcar and South Lake Union streetcar lines.
- A proviso will be imposed on spending more than $90,000 on a Downtown Circulator operated by Solid Ground until a rider survey is conducted and a report is provided to the city council.
- $200,000 will be dedicated to studying the impacts from SR-99 diversion due to tolling and consider congestion pricing on local streets to keep transit moving.
- The city council is requesting a comprehensive report by multiple departments on strategies to reduce congestion on Downtown alleys.
- $600,000 will be dedicated to planning, design, and outreach on the Georgetown-South Park Trail.
- The city council is requesting a report on potential use of automated enforcement to reduce transit lane violations and the instance of vehicles “blocking the box.”
- $200,000 will be dedicated to outreach and education for commuters using pre-tax transit benefits.
- A proviso will be imposed on spending money on street improvement to NE 43rd St near the University District Station unless the Seattle Department of Transportation considers full closure of the street to general vehicle traffic.
- $75,000 will be dedicated to permanent (all-day, all-year) Play Streets installations in residential areas.
- The city council is requesting a report on implementation strategies for the seven planned RapidRide lines in the event that federal funding becomes tighter.
Planning and Community Development
- The city council is requesting a report on food deserts and strategies to better provide food access to communities.
- Three new positions will be created for station area planning related to Sound Transit 3.
- $150,000 will be dedicated to collaborative programs to fund efforts for community land trusts and cooperatives.
- The city council is requesting a report on ways to support the Seattle Public Schools in facilities planning for growth in the local student population.
- $50,000 will be dedicated to resources assisting property owners in developing accessory dwelling units and incentive tools to secure rent- and income-restricted units.
- The city council is requesting a report on the kinds of community engagement strategies that the Office of Planning and Community Development is using and how the department will achieve specific community engagement objectives going forward.
- $200,000 will be dedicated to tenant education and outreach support services.
Community and Human Services
- The city council is requesting a study on the feasibility of locating a safe consumption site in the city. $1.3 million will also be set aside for creating a safe consumption site.
- 100 new mobile hotspot devices will be purchased for general use from city libraries.
- $450,000 will be dedicated to funding two authorized encampments, including the Ballard Nickelsville. Another $500,000 will be used to provide services to unauthorized encampments. A broad proviso on using city funds will also be placed on departments from actively removing unauthorized encampments, but it won’t fully stop sweeps. Similarly, a proviso makes it less likely that fences will be placed around unauthorized encampment areas.
- $2.75 million will be dedicated toward funding for permanent supportive housing.
- The city council is requesting a report on affordable housing projects that could be funded by $50 million in city-issued bonds in 2019.
- $400,000 will be dedicated to providing mobile services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and $400,000 for emergency shelter and counseling. Another $150,000 will go toward legal representation services of these victims and $400,000 for drop-in and support services.
- $588,000 will be dedicated to transitional homeless foster youth housing programs like Accelerator YMCA and YouthCare Pathways.
- $100,000 will be dedicated to developing an implementation plan for an employee hours tax.
- The city council is requesting a report on how funds from an income tax on high-income earners could be used within the spirit of the guidance in the income tax law.
- $100,000 will be dedicated to a feasibility study in creating a city-owned bank.
- The city council is requesting development of stakeholder advisory group focused on creation of an employee-hours tax.
Budget Tweaks Could Speed Transit, Homelessness Services, and Broadband Plan
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.