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caption: Seattle City Hall
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Seattle City Hall
Credit: Flickr Photo/Daniel X. O'Neil (CC-BY-NC-ND)/

Durkan's proposed 2021 budget: $100M for BIPOC communities, wage freezes, and more

Wages freezes, emergency reserves, and $100 million for Seattle's communities of color are a few highlights from Mayor Jenny Durkan's proposed $6.5 billion 2021 budget.

The heart of Durkan’s budget is $100 million in new spending for Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

“To honor the protests in the street, but also the generations of underinvestment in our BIPOC communities," Durkan said Tuesday as she presented her proposal.

Durkan says those communities will recommend how that money gets spent.

"We know the community is the best position to assess for themselves, what resources they need, and where they need to invest it."

Durkan did not say anything about who exactly will be included in that decision-making. There’s already some concerns being raised by some community members about exactly who will be involved and how that money will be spent.

There are also questions about how the city comes up with the $100 million. Some activists and city council members say the money should come out of the police budget. But the mayor's budgeting for the money to draw from the general fund, which is how a number of city departments are funded as well, such as the fire department.

caption: A slide from Mayor Jenny Durkan's presentation on her proposed 2021 budget.
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A slide from Mayor Jenny Durkan's presentation on her proposed 2021 budget.
Credit: City of Seattle

Proposed 2021 budget

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2021 Seattle Mayor Durkan Proposed Budget.pdf

As Seattle faces a range of challenges and disagreements on issues from policing to homelessness, the budget is where the rubber hits the road.

The mayor now hands her proposal over to the City Council, with its own goals and views on how funds should be spent. Changes are expected.

Out of the city's proposed $6.5 billion budget, about $5 billion is fixed, when, for example, revenue has already been earmarked by state lawmakers for specific items such as transportation.

That leaves less wiggle room than the top line number suggests to adapt to pandemic shortfalls. Covid-19 has led to more than $200 million in lost tax revenue.

For example, the city faces big drops in things like tourism. And many people aren't driving so there is also a downturn in parking fees and the gas tax. Revenue is also down at the Seattle Center, one of the city's most prominent gathering spaces.

“And across the country cities and local governments' revenues have been decimated,” Durkan said Tuesday.

The mayor office says it is working to "minimize impact to the city's workforce." Wage freezes are on the table for non-represented employees, however, and the proposal states it will "manage vacancies and reduce staffing in ways that minimize impacts" to city services. A hiring freeze is also in effect.

The budget assumes that the economy will be on a path to recovery in 2021, and notes that after dipping into emergency funds, little money will be left for other sudden needs. It also assumes that the city will not receive outside funding help for tackling the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Also mentioned in the proposed budget:

  • New revenue such as a payroll tax
  • Lobbying the state for a city income tax
  • Delaying non-essential capital projects
  • Dipping into Seattle's emergency reserves, and other one-time funding
  • $21.75 million in additional funds for meals, rental assistance, and other needs that have grown during the pandemic
  • Adds $6 million for homeless hygiene and shower services
  • Supports childcares services through the Parks and Recreation Department

Seattle police

The mayor's proposal also addressed her plan to move many operations out of the Seattle Police Department. Most of the duties are civilian jobs.

There’s around $20 million in cuts that could affect uniformed officers directly.

The proposed cuts add up to tens of millions of dollars. It's still far less than the 50% reduction that many activists and city council members say they support.

durkan 2021 proposed budget slide police
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Credit: City of Seattle

Seattle Department of Transportation

The proposal mentions that "SDOT will continue work to repurpose streets and public rights of way for recreation and to provide open air socially distanced locations for bars and restaurants" in response to the pandemic.

2021 mayor proposed budget SDOT
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Credit: city of Seattle