November 2023

A Mixed Seattle Budget, While a $221 Million Deficit Still Looms

Seattle News:

This week the Seattle City Council voted on all the amendments for the 2024 budget. Votes of particular note are as follows:

  • The funding for ShotSpotter remains in the budget, with CMs Strauss, Lewis, Juarez, Pedersen, and Nelson voting in favor. (This is in spite of a press release from City Council PR talking about how bad ShotSpotter is.) This also means services for tiny house villages will be cut in 2024. The next step to implement ShotSpotter in Seattle will be a surveillance impact report (SIR), which includes a racial equity toolkit.
  • The Council increased the JumpStart tax a small amount to generate $20m in order to fund mental health supports for Seattle’s students. Voting in favor were Mosqueda, Sawant, Herbold, Morales, and Juarez. The Stranger covered this vote as well.
  • A proviso telling SPD to re-initiate a contract with Truleo was passed, in spite of objections from ACLU Washington.
  • Both amendments offering additional resources for domestic violence victims were passed.
  • The $4.5 million for SPD special events bonuses to support the MOU with SPOG was included in the budget, taken from planning reserves. The vote on the actual MOU will take place at Full Council sometime in December. 
  • All human service workers, including those working under Continuum of Care contracts, received their 2% raise.
  • Funds were added to increase food security and violence prevention programs, and a SLI was requested to evaluate current gun violence prevention programs.
  • Money was removed from SPD for the Affected Persons Program, and money was added to HSD ($100k) for the same, to be contracted out to a community-based organization.

You can also read a budget wrap-up at Publicola.

Some light was also shed on the new progressive revenue sources conversation. As previously mentioned, the JumpStart tax will be increased to generate an additional $20m. CM Pedersen would like to repeal a water fee and use a 2% city-wide capital gains tax (with a $250k standard deduction) to make up the lost revenue. Projections show such a capital gains tax might generate $38 million, although it comes from a small pool of taxpayers and has an unusually high degree of uncertainty, due to market volatility and the ability for taxpayers to potentially avoid the tax by declaring a permanent home outside Seattle. CM Pedersen’s hope is that the repeal of the water fee and passage of the capital gains tax would be revenue neutral. The Council could, however, choose to pass only the capital gains tax in order to try to begin to address the 2025 budget deficit.

As for the CEO high pay ratio tax that we’ve been hearing about, we learned bad news. The original plan was to build this tax as another level of the JumpStart tax, which would make it easier to implement. However, doing it in this fashion would only generate about $7.5 million annually, which is much lower than expected. There are potentially other ways to implement a tax like this that don’t use JumpStart as a vehicle and might collect significantly more revenue, but the work has not been done by the City to enable this at present.

If the Council’s budget passes next week without substantial changes, the revenue deficit the city will be facing in 2025 stands at $221 million. The Budget Committee will vote on the final budget package on Monday, November 20, with a Full Council final budget vote on Tuesday, November 21. There will be one additional budget meeting on Thursday, November 30 for CMs to vote on the capital gains tax and water fee as well as various budget processes and transparency legislation. These further budget-related matters will receive a Full Council vote in December.

We also learned a bit more about the MOU with SPOG. First, the special event bonuses will expire at the beginning of 2026 and will not be automatically included as a line item in the full SPOG contract currently being negotiated. Second, the MOU will allow SPD officers to clear the scene for the new CARE responders without being physically present if they so choose. And third, the $225 bonuses were calculated to basically provide SPD officers performing a special events shift with double time pay (normal overtime is time and a half) at their current pay rate. However, when their pay rate goes up in the next SPOG contract, the bonus will remain at the same amount. You can read more about this at The Stranger.

The plan is for this MOU to be voted on at Full Council on Tuesday, December 5 at 2pm. There will be an opportunity to give public comment at this meeting.

In other labor news, the office of Mayor Harrell sent a condescending email to city workers with tips about spending less money. The reason these workers are struggling financially? Because they are not being given raises commensurate with inflation. Classy move.

In election news, it looks like the Seattle City Council will move further towards the center, a movement that has been ongoing as is exemplified by votes this year for the drug criminalization bill and ShotSpotter, among others.

Housekeeping:

As I don’t expect much to change with Seattle’s budget at this point, and due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be taking the rest of November off. There’ll be another edition of the newsletter published the first week of December.

Recent Headlines:

A Mixed Seattle Budget, While a $221 Million Deficit Still Looms Read More »

Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes?

Seattle News

Most of this week has been elections, elections, elections. As of this writing, a few Seattle councilmember races are still too close to call, but we’re seeing a definitive shift to the right.

It looks like CM Mosqueda will be moving over to the King County Council next year, and she has announced she intends to step down from Seattle City Council at the beginning of next year, when the new Council will be able to appoint a replacement. In the meantime, she’ll be busy getting the 2024 budget passed as well as finishing up other budget work.

SPD Detective Cookie Boudin has followed up her spring tort claim by suing the City. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, saying she’s spent her whole career dealing with a pattern of racist harrassment. The trial date has been set for November 4, 2024. 

KUOW reported that a cooking show/class at PCC hosted by SPD Chief Diaz and special guest former Chief Best cost the city $2000 in overtime this past Saturday, as five other SPD employees were paid to attend: two bodyguards, a community outreach officer, a patrol officer, and an executive assistant. Four more similar events have been scheduled and in total could cost more than $9000 in overtime. “Current numbers show the department will be between $1.5 to $4.6 million over budget by year end, Jamie Housen, spokesperson with the mayor’s office, wrote by email. He said overtime costs were mostly to blame.”

The Firefighters have reached a tentative contract with the city that isn’t good news for workers. It gives minimum annual wage increases of 2-4%, as well as a 4.5% raise in 2022 and a 5.5% raise in 2023. Given these rates don’t keep up with the rates of inflation during those same years, this represents a wage cut in real terms. This could bode poorly for the Coalition of City Unions, who have currently been offered a 2.5% wage increase. As Erica C. Barnett writes:In contrast, Seattle police officers received a 17 percent pay increase after their last contract negotiation, with retroactive pay increases between 3 and 4 percent a year for the years they worked without a contract. The city council approved hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for police last year.”

Seattle Budget and the SPOG MOU 

Seattle’s Budget Committee will be meeting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week to discuss budget-related legislation and councilmember amendments. Votes on amendments are expected on Tuesday 11/14, with Wednesday’s meeting most likely to consist of discussion of budget proposals and progressive revenue options that aren’t needed to balance the 2024 budget.

There will be an opportunity to give public comment on Monday, November 13 at both 10am and at the public hearing at 5pm. Solidarity Budget will be hosting a budget rally outside City Hall on Monday starting at 4pm. Suggested talking points for public comment and emails are available here.

Solidarity Budget co-hosted a webinar on Wednesday with ACLU Washington on the problems with the ShotSpotter surveillance technology that is currently being given funding in the 2024 budget. You can watch the webinar here, look at the slides, and find more talking points about ShotSpotter here. One of the amendments slated to be voted on next week will require a racial equity toolkit be done on this technology whenever it is moved to a new neighborhood, as opposed to the original plans announced by Senior Deputy Mayor Burgess to only require an omnibus Surveillance Impact Report (SIR). Another amendment would take the $1.5 million currently allocated for this technology and instead spend it on mental health services for tiny house villages, which are currently funded at significantly lower levels in 2024 than they were in 2023.

This week the city also announced a proposal for a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG). You can read the Central Staff memorandum on the MOU on page 42 and the full text of the MOU on page 51 of this packet.

The MOU accomplishes three things:

  • It would allow the city flexibility to sometimes use parking enforcement officers to staff special events.
  • It would allow the city to implement its dual dispatch emergency alternative response program. In spite of all the hype around the launch of this pilot, it turns out that until and unless this MOU is agreed upon, police can actively request CARE members only after they’ve arrived at and secured a site for Wellness Check and Person Down Calls, meaning it’s not even a true dual dispatch yet.
  • It would allow the city to use park rangers at parks outside of the downtown area.

There are several problematic aspects of the MOU. Perhaps the biggest one is the agreement to give officers who volunteer to staff special events an additional $225 bonus for each shift worked (in addition to any relevant overtime pay). This bonus is projected to cost $8 million in additional funds through the end of 2025. So here we have a situation in which firefighters are taking a pay cut in real terms if they accept their proposed contract while police officers are getting further bonuses beyond overtime for working special events, increasing SPD’s budget bloat even further at the expense of other core city services.

The rationale behind this odd choice is that right now SPD can only staff these special events through mandatory overtime, which is putting a strain on their workforce. But SPOG is only willing to give these officers relief by allowing other people to do some of the special events work if their officers get paid an extra bonus. Meanwhile, SPD once again went significantly over their overtime budget this year and yet are still willing to spend $2000 in overtime for a cooking class, as mentioned above. 

I’ll also note that once a new section involving extra pay is added to police guild contracts, it tends to be very, very difficult to remove later. Not to mention that this doesn’t appear to show particularly good negotiating tactics on the part of the city, who are still working with SPOG to agree upon a new contract almost three years after its expiration.

Another problematic aspect of the MOU has to do with the new dual dispatch pilot. This MOU restricts the number of responders that can be hired by CARE to 24 FTEs, meaning SPOG gets to determine the size of the pilot. It restricts the call types to which they can respond to only Person Down and Welfare Check calls, hence the Director’s reluctance to suggest response to any other call types. In addition, according to the MOU, dispatching CARE responders is not to affect the number of police dispatched to any given call. And CARE responders will be required to write a report that is available to SPD officers, which could potentially dissuade people who are already wary of the police from being willing to use this new program.

The budget amendment funding this MOU will be voted on next week and provide $4.5 million of funding to cover SPD special event bonuses for October thru December of this year and 2024. It is unclear how this extra expenditure will be balanced in the budget. The legislation related to the MOU will be on the Introduction & Referral calendar on November 21 and is expected to be voted on at Full Council sometime during the first half of December.

Recent Headlines:

Will Seattle Pay SPOG a Premium to Let Others Help SPD with its Staffing Woes? Read More »

The Debate over ShotSpotter in Seattle Continues, While King County Takes Up Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Seattle News:
Budget

A new op-ed critical of ShotSpotter being in Seattle’s 2024 budget was published this week. There will also be a webinar about ShotSpotter next Wednesday, November 8 at 5:30pm; it will live stream on YouTube and has a Facebook event page.

Speaking of ShotSpotter, at last Friday’s budget meeting, an amendment was proposed to cut $1.5 million from the Crime Prevention Pilot proposed in the Mayor’s budget (this would cut all funding associated with ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras, while leaving money for license plate readers) and instead use these funds to pay for behavioral health services at tiny home villages that have been partially defunded in the 2024 budget. These services allow tiny home villages to house folks with higher acuity needs than they’d otherwise be able to take. 

CM Herbold said she was disappointed that it didn’t appear any additional community engagement has happened over the use of ShotSpotter since last year. Apparently about a month after her request to Senior Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess for the studies he said existed to back up his claim that uniting the ShotSpotter technology with CCTV cameras improved its accuracy rate and its admissibility as evidence in court, he finally sent her some studies. Six of these studies only spoke to the potential benefits of CCTV cameras, with no mention at all of ShotSpotter acoustic gun detection technology. One final document sent was a suggestion found in a guide that one might pair the two technologies, but this didn’t include any study nor reference to a study.

CM Pedersen said we needed to fund ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras because of SPD’s low staffing levels. Perhaps he is not familiar with this study, which found: “Although the study is limited to one city, results indicate AGDS may be of little benefit to police agencies with a pre-existing high call volume. Our results indicate no reductions in serious violent crimes, yet AGDS increases demands on police resources.”

CM Nelson said, “I think there is probably evidence on both sides of the argument depending on which study you’re looking at.” She then failed to present a single study supporting the use of ShotSpotter. 

There was a marathon budget meeting to discuss all the councilmembers’ proposed amendments last Friday. Besides the one using ShotSpotter funding for behavioral health services for tiny home villages, here are some of particular note:

  • Two amendments add funding for domestic violence survivors, including one for mobile community-based survivor supports.
  • Two amendments add funding for inflationary adjustments and a 2% provider pay equity increase for ALL human services worker contracts (some of them were excluded from this in the initial proposal), although one of the sources of funding has raised some questions.
  • A State of Legislative Intent (SLI) requesting HSD and CSCC/CARE perform a gap analysis of the City’s current and priority investments in gun violence prevention as compared to the recommendations in the King County Regional Community Safety and Wellbeing (RCSWB) Plan, and identify complementary, duplicative, or gaps in services provided by the City and King County. 
  • Additional dollars for both the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) ($50k) and the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) ($222k)
  • A proviso asking SPD to resume their contract with Truleo, which provides technology to review body worn camera footage. There is a long storied history behind this one, but it seems worth mentioning ACLU WA has historically been against the use of this technology for privacy and civil rights reasons. 

CM Mosqueda also laid out her plan for discussing new progressive revenue options, as well as other budget-related legislation that isn’t required to balance the 2024 budget. Initial proposals will be discussed on Wednesday, November 15. There will be an additional budget committee meeting after the budget is passed by Full Council (theoretically on November 21) to discuss and vote on these progressive revenue proposals. That extra meeting will be on Thursday, November 30, and should any legislation pass that day, it will then move to a Full Council vote on Tuesday, December 5.

It is pressing for the Council to discuss new progressive revenue options due to the forthcoming budget deficit, which for 2025 currently sits at $251 million. Any new revenue that is passed by Council would need time to be implemented, so in order to have new revenue to fill that budget gap in 2025, legislation would need to be passed sooner rather than later.

New progressive revenue options you can expect to see include a proposal for a small city-wide capital gains tax and the potential repeal of an extant water fee/tax. Councilmember Sawant has proposed two amendments that would require small increases to the current JumpStart payroll tax; these amendments would fund mental health counselors for schools ($20 million) and pay increases for city workers ($40 million). CMs Herbold and Mosqueda co-sponsored both these amendments.

In addition, there has been some talk of a CEO pay ratio tax. This could be instituted as another layer of the JumpStart payroll tax, to be levied on total payroll and applying only to corporations that exceed the CEO pay ratio. It is unclear how much additional revenue this would generate.

The Affected Persons Program, originally funded in the 2023 budget, did not have its work group implemented by the OPA this year. In response, it has had its funding moved over to HSD to contract with a community-based organization to coordinate the workgroup.

SPD’s New Ruse Policy

SPD announced their new ruse policy to much fanfare this week. This policy was created in response to the infamous Proud Boy ruse during the 2020 protests, as well as another ruse by SPD in 2018 in which an officer lied to the friend of a suspect in a fender bender, saying a woman was in critical condition because of the crash. The suspect committed suicide about a month later.

The new policy outlines the circumstances in which a ruse is allowed to be conducted. They are no longer supposed to be used for the investigation of misdemeanor property crimes. Perhaps most strikingly, they are also not allowed to be broadcast over radio, social media, or any other mass media format, a rule that, had it been in place in 2020, might have prevented the Proud Boy ruse. Officers are also supposed to consult with a supervisor before instigating a ruse, although only when “reasonably practical,” which seems like a potentially large loophole.

There are also now new requirements for documenting patrol ruses, which has led to some speculation over how many ruses will actually be documented in the manner described in the policy, as well as how much extra time (and potentially overtime) this might require. The word “ruse” is required to be specifically used in these reports, which could potentially make public disclosure requests around these sorts of police actions a bit easier to implement. 

What this new policy doesn’t directly address is the lack of communication that may have led public officials such as Seattle Public Utilities’ Emergency Manager into believing and making decisions based on their belief in the Proud Boy ruse.

Black Officers Alleging Discrimination at UW Police Department

Back in 2021, five Black officers at the UW Police Department filed a claim alleging dozens of incidents of racial discrimination in their workplace. Jury selection for this trial, which involves claims of over $8 million, began last week. Apparently an outside review was done of the department in 2019, which found a “culture of fear.” And yet UW President Ana Mari Cauce expressed surprise at the lawsuit since the review didn’t mention racism as a concern. How it would have uncovered such a thing given the aforementioned culture of fear is an open question.

King County News:

Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

The King County Council is discussing a new ordinance to replace the ordinance they passed in 2017 banning solitary confinement for juveniles, with a possible vote planned for this coming Tuesday.

First, some scene setting: King County’s youth detention facility has been experiencing staffing shortages. Right now 73 detention officers are employed there, while they are funded for 91 officers. This year they have hired 20 new detention officers while 21 detention officers have left their positions, leaving the facility with a small net negative for the year in terms of staffing numbers. 

The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention say they would like the juvenile solitary confinement ordinance changed in order to be able to provide one-on-one programming to juveniles at the facility. This would involve a change to the definition of solitary confinement.  But advocates, including ACLU Washington, the King County Department of Public Defense, and Team Child, have brought up a few concerns:

  • Due to the continued staffing shortage, advocates are worried staffing issues might become an exemption to the ban of solitary confinement for juveniles. While Councilmember Balducci’s proposed striker amendment does improve upon this, they desire to see stronger language clarifying that staffing issues won’t become an exemption to this regulation, especially in order to prevent solitary confinement being justified as needed due to a facility safety issue.
  • The ban on juvenile solitary confinement does not include any enforcement mechanism for violations. Without a means of enforcing the right to not be put into solitary confinement, the ban doesn’t necessarily protect juveniles in practice. Advocates are asking for a system that allows kids who have been illegally held in solitary confinement to be able to collect damages without having to file a lawsuit as a means of enforcement. 

If you would like to weigh in on this issue, you can email or call your King County councilmembers and/or give public comment in person or remotely at the committee meeting on Tuesday, November 7 at 9:30am.

Drugs in King County Jail

According to an indictment, a former King County Jail guard allegedly accepted bribes to bring methamphetamine and fentanyl into the King County Jail for two inmates. 

In response, Executive Constantine released the following statement

“The charges alleged in this indictment represent not just a breach of public safety, but a disdain for the trust placed in those we count on to serve and protect. I want to make clear – the charges against this former employee and his co-conspirators tarnish the work that our corrections officers do every day to serve their community with professionalism and the highest standards of care.

The public can count on King County to continue doing everything we can to stop fentanyl and other contraband from entering our correctional facilities.”

Once again, this calls into question the intentions behind Seattle’s drug criminalization bill passed earlier this fall, given some of the people arrested due to this bill will end up in a jail in which illegal drugs are potentially circulating.

WA State News:

Finally, a small tidbit of what is to come during the next state legislative session beginning in January 2024:

Meanwhile, more help will be sought to fill the ranks of law enforcement agencies. The Association of Washington Cities wants the Legislature to update the local Public Safety Sales Tax to allow councils to use the funds to boost officer pay and increase behavioral health resources. It’s also asking the state to offer more classes at the Basic Law Enforcement Academy and expand regional academies.”

Recent Headlines:

The Debate over ShotSpotter in Seattle Continues, While King County Takes Up Juvenile Solitary Confinement Read More »