The city of Renton is grappling with economic hardships of 2020, as Mayor Armondo Pavone presented his first biennial budget plan, for 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, residents have been speaking out about how the city budget could support Renton’s community in more equitable ways.
Expenditures are expected to exceed revenues in the next two years, with the city spending $507.5 million and receiving revenues of $494.2 million. Expenses are still expected to be $17.5 million less than the 2019-20 budget.
Majority of the spending is on public works, utilities and capital projects at 41%. The second largest spending is on the Renton Police Department at 17%. Community Services department, including recreation and human services, makes up 12%. Police will continue to have the highest staffing of any department at 163.4 full time employees, Public Works department being just behind with 162.5 full time employees.
In 2020, the city saw a revenue loss of $16.9 million due to COVID-19, mostly from B&O tax and city fees waived during the shutdown. The proposed budget for 2021-22 will use reserves to supplement the budget and maintain the level of city services residents expect without additional increases in tax revenue.
The city is proposing no new positions in the upcoming biennial budget, with 2.5 positions being removed in the 2021-22 budget.
During Mayor Pavone’s first biennial budget presentation, he spoke to the hardships faced during this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Renton. Along with loss of loved ones and distancing from others, many businesses have shuttered, including in Renton. He also praised the city for it’s quick shift to virtual operations at the start of the shutdown, and the way the city upheld its business plan in the past year.
“This budget proposal will allow us to continue to meet the service needs of our growing community, albeit under some rather challenging circumstances due to revenue losses associated with COVID-19,” Pavone told council at the Oct. 5 Committee of the Whole.
Residents ask budget to Stand for Justice
Several residents spoke at the second public hearing, Oct. 5, in support of the Stand for Justice budget demands, created by the Renton Residents for Change (RRFC), a group that formed this past summer, including community leader Rev. Linda Smith.
The four demands are: restore the advisory commission on diversity and rename it the Equity and Empowerment Commission; Create an anti-racist budget by directing funds towards social services; Meet a 50% employment and contracting target for Black people and other people of color employees; and creating a program to support and fund things like Black homeownership, Black businesses and scholarships. The full details of the Stand for Justice demands are listed here.
Smith was encouraged by the Mayor’s verbal commitment, but told council that nothing she heard in the budget presentation appeared to address the inequities RRFC have been bringing to council in public comments throughout the summer, as reported by South Seattle Emerald.
Smith also acknowledged the city’s recent addition to the business plan on strengthening its stand against racism, but said without funds, that commitment is just words.
Smith, RRFC founders Joseph Todd and Krysta Strasbaugh, as well as seven other community members all asked for more feedback and responsiveness from the city council and mayor on the Stand for Justice demands.
“I’m hoping in the next couple weeks we at least hear from someone,” Smith said. “If we don’t, it says the meetings we’ve been coming to and the people we’ve been talking to, is all insignificant.”
Following the public comment, Councilmember Angelina Benedetti proposed, and the council voted, for the city administration to explore the feasibility of the first demand, an Equity and Empowerment Commission, for the 2021-22 biennial budget. Council President Ruth Pérez also reminded residents that the more in-depth presentations on the budget would be happening in the following weeks.
The final public hearing on the 2021-22 proposed budget is scheduled for Nov. 2, when the council will make its first vote on the budget. The entire proposed budget, including videos of department budget presentations and a budget calendar, can be found here.