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Proposed Seattle budget: More money for homelessness, sexual assault survivors

Mayor Tim Burgess answers questions on Monday, September 18, 2017, after taking the oath of office and becoming the mayor of Seattle, at City Hall in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
Mayor Tim Burgess answers questions on Monday, September 18, 2017, after taking the oath of office and becoming the mayor of Seattle, at City Hall in Seattle.

Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess has unveiled his proposed 2018 city budget.

It's perhaps the most important thing he’ll do in his short time in the mayor’s office and he made sure to insert some of his own priorities into the document before presenting it to council.

Seattle’s City Council will likely make changes to the budget before voting on it in November.

Speaking to his former colleagues on the council Monday, Burgess outlined some of the high profile items in the $5.6 billion proposal.

He’s used the budget platform to propose the creation of a city program that would ensure all workers in Seattle have a retirement savings plan – something he’s been working on for two years as a council member.  

The document also includes some familiar items, like additional money for homelessness and police accountability.  

Most of the budget was drafted before Burgess ascended to the city’s top job. He became mayor last week after Ed Murray resigned amid growing accusations of child sex abuse. Murray denies all allegations.

Burgess was chosen by his fellow council members to fill the role after council President Bruce Harrell – who was immediately elevated to the position when Murray’s resignation went into effect – declined to serve out Murray’s term.

Burgess will serve until election results are certified at the end of November.

The upheaval caused by accusations against former Mayor Murray has drawn calls from several City Council members to include money for survivors of sexual assault in the 2018 budget.

Burgess’ proposal does that. It includes an additional $500,000 to support sexual assault survivors.

"To survivors in our community, I want you to know that your city government stands with you. We will support you and we will walk with you on that path toward healing,” Burgess said during his budget address.

According to a statement from the mayor’s office:

“The priority for this funding is to provide person-centered interventions to address and prevent long-term health and mental health issues. Services may include crisis intervention, information and referral services, general advocacy, medical advocacy, and legal advocacy.”

Burgess also announced $162,000 to ensure full enforcement of a recent state law that requires domestic violence offenders to surrender their firearms.

Additionally, the proposed budget includes additional funds for homelessness services. The number of people living unsheltered on Seattle's streets has continued to climb in recent years. And with it, the amount of money the city is spending to tackle the issue.

Burgess’ budget sees a continuation of that pattern with homelessness spending bumped to roughly $63 million. That's a 60 percent increase in spending over the past 4 years. Burgess said, among other things, the money would go towards additional staffing.

"To add another outreach team, specifically focused on helping people living in vehicles. Plus a homeless outreach position at Seattle public libraries."

Along with the budget, Burgess is sending legislation to the council that would require the city only fund providers that can show results. He said it's crucial the city's spending is competitive.

"We need to make certain those tax dollars are spent wisely and effectively. This is just common sense and our taxpayers demand it."

Nearly 4,000 people sleep outside in Seattle each night and Burgess’ proposal calls the homelessness crisis the city's most significant policy challenge.

But homelessness isn’t the only challenge faced in the budget. Another significant problem comes from cost overruns caused by an uptick in spending on claims and lawsuits. Seattle is involved in multiple lawsuits, including defending the newly passed income tax and a law that would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize.

The city also faces costs from settlements and the use of outside counsel.

Overruns leave a hole of more than $13 million in the budget. The 2018 proposal would take money from the general fund to help cover the deficit.

Burgess’ budget calls for a comprehensive review in 2018, in recognition of the fact that “unanticipated expenditures of this magnitude are difficult to manage.”

That includes a review of the “city’s overall approach to mitigating the risks that generate claims and lawsuits.”

But it’s not all bad news. Burgess’ budget includes revenue from the city’s recently-passed sweetened beverages tax. It’s expected to generate nearly $15 million and most of the revenue will go to education programs and programs that expand access to healthy and affordable food.  

Additional money has also been set aside to continue increasing the number of officers on the city’s police force. Burgess has also earmarked money for accountability measures, including roughly $1.5 million for the new Office of Inspector General.

The City Council will now take up the proposed budget and discuss amendments. 

Year started with KUOW: 2015