Last week, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell outlined his recommended 2021-22 city budget to council members. His priorities seem to avoid responding to the major challenges facing the city.
Ferrell’s top priority is “security of residents and property” and a “clean litter free city.” That translates into three new police officers and two new employees to do litter cleanup along with a new graffiti tech position.
Ferrell also wants to fully fund reserve accounts, avoid layoffs and maintain the existing service level. Further, he wants to make improvements to Dumas Bay and the Community Center, and also replace the parks department’s Operations and Maintenance Facility (OMF) .
All may be needed, but are these the biggest challenges facing our city? Our biggest challenges are not crime, litter, graffiti, or upkeep on city buildings.
Ferrell is constantly telling us that crime is down. The council recently approved his recommendation to hire up to six more police officers with a COPS grant next year. That means Ferrell can hire three more in the two-year budget. When the grant runs out, taxpayers will have to pay for the officers. Each officer costs approximately $100,000 per year. Two years from now there may be higher priorities, but the money is already obligated.
Ferrell makes a point in his press release of going from 134 officers to 137 officers,“a historic high.” Adding police in an election year feels more like politics rather than security. It also feels like he’s trying to ensure he gets the police guild’s endorsement next year.
The biggest problem confronting the world, including Federal Way, is COVID-19 and its impact on our businesses, schools and families. The federal government has provided city governments different pots of money to distribute to businesses in need. But much of that money has been handed out in $1,000 and $2,000 grants. That is not going to help much in paying the bills and keeping their employees on the payroll, nor provide support to the cost many employees face just trying to hold a job or pay for child care. Far more needs to be done.
The second biggest problem confronting our community is homelessness. Ferrell has been mayor for almost seven years and we still don’t have a comprehensive plan to end homelessness in Federal Way. We have band-aids for different pieces of the problem, but no organized plan with a solution that everyone supports. No transitional housing, no little house village, no wrap around services to assist with the problems homeless people face. No system or pathway for a homeless person to follow to become a person with a place to live and a job.
The homeless are not even provided outdoor toilets, so what choice do they have about where to go to the bathroom? Rather than step in and provide them facilities, the city shows pictures of the mess that stir anger against the homeless, when the city could have helped avoid the problem by providing portable toilets.
Ferrell has successfully punted much of the responsibility for these citizens to the churches, nonprofits and other cities by constantly forcing the homeless to move from one place to another, preferably out of Federal Way. But according to the city, guidelines for social distancing will make maintaining that model unlikely.
If you’re homeless, how are you supposed to wash your hands and where do you get soap? What if you are exposed to COVID-19? How do you avoid passing it along to others if home is a homeless encampment? There are hand sanitizers in City Hall, but none in homeless encampments.
I’m glad the city wants to fix up Dumas Bay because it would be a great place to provide for the homeless, particularly those with COVID-19 who need to be quarantined. The city had designated it to be used for first responders who contracted COVID-19. Good idea, but appearantly it was never used for that, and no one considered another possible use? Winter is coming and a quarentine site out of the weather may be needed.
The next biggest challenge facing Federal Way, and most of America, is race relations. But there was no mention of any initiatives, plans or policies in Ferrell’s budget overview to address this issue. In the aftermath of George Floyd, and other Black people being killed by white police officers, Ferrell met with over 100 residents of color in a virtual community meeting a few weeks ago. He took over the meeting in a manner that demonstrated no interest in what the citizens had to say, only in trying to “educate” them.
Another public meeting is set for October, with small group discussions occurring in between. Most of our residents place a high value in not getting shot because of the color of their skin. Many of the attendees at the community meeting want all officers to be given body cameras so that everyone will know what happened in every “use of force” event. They also want an independent review board to have oversite over police investigations. They felt the officer in the Josiah Hunter case should have been fired and want changes to rules governing police behavior. They want additional training for officers and want programs for minority youth.
Recognizing that issues with police are only part of the challenge, they want renters to be treated fairly by landlords. College or technical school grants are an idea to level the playing field in training that leads to jobs. But the response from the mayor’s office when asked about these items was “we have received no budget request from the Federal Way Black Collective” and that “they are more than welcome to apply for a human services grant, if it is funds they are seeking.”
Makes me wonder if anyone from the city has been listening. People of color want the city budget to reflect their concerns and for the city to protect them from being shot by a police officer. They don’t want the responsibility for their safety transferred to them. If the city can fund three new staff for litter, the city can afford a down payment on body cameras.
And let’s hope the October community meeting goes better than the last one.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.