By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff
On Tuesday, November 10, the Snohomish County Council adopted a $1.045 billion 2021 budget, with over $1 million set aside to cultivate countywide social justice.
The five councilmembers voted 4-1 approving the budget allocations, with Councilwoman Megan Dunn dissenting, wanting funding to further support initiatives driven by the county’s communities of color and the recently created Office of Social Justice.
“We heard an overwhelming need to invest in our community through increased housing, services, and social justice reforms,” said Dunn in a statement to the Lynnwood Times. “I appreciated the council’s collaborative process, and I was proud to champion the addition of Designated Crisis Responders, and studies on the implementation of a Veterans Treatment Court and a new tribal liaison position. However, without substantially restoring funding to the Executive’s Office of Social Justice, I was not able to vote in support of the overall budget. I look forward to working with the council to improve outcomes for all people living in Snohomish County.”
In June, Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced a proposed county department- an Office of Social Justice, to develop a county culture focused on social justice through dismantling the individual, institutional, and structural racism within Snohomish County. Towards the beginning of budget allocation discussions, the council began with $500,000 recommended for the Office of Social Justice proposals. The total amount dwindling down to the adopted $100,000. However, next year the county council will work with the Office of Social Justice on how to distribute another $100,000 in funds to increase equity and social justice within the county.
“I appreciate that the County Council will partially fund the Office of Social Justice, equip deputies with body-worn cameras, and otherwise advance efforts to combat racism,” said Somers in a statement to the Lynnwood Times. “While I am disappointed that some of my requests were denied, we have strong community support for making progress. We know that more must be done, and we will continue to do everything we can to make the county justice system as fair and transparent as possible.
Nearly half of the budget the council adopted towards social justice was invested in officer-worn body cameras for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, with a price tag of $300,000. Another $75,000 for social justice initiatives was granted to the Sheriff’s Office, as long asSheriff Adam Fortney or his departments submit plans and associated costs to the council for consideration before an initiative can commence.
The budget now also includes an amendment proposed by Councilman Jared Mead for a $100,000 Law Enforcement Efficiency Study, in which the county will analyze the types of calls law enforcement is responding to, intended to support new opportunities to enhance approaches to policing.
The budget will also allocate $273,000 of its funds to the county’s crisis responder program, employing a supervisor and two mental health professionals to provide community-based crisis services and support. This increased fundingexpands the existing crisis responder program to the Sheriff’s Department’s South precinct, providing law enforcement officers with added support and alternatives in instances of crisis calls.
The council also voted that $350,000 be put towards a data collection effort by Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell, accumulating information in regard to race, key data from courts, police agencies, prosecutors, and defense attorneys providing insight into when and where reform is necessary. The initiative intends to increase transparency and accountability, building trust within the community.
“I am proud that our budget includes important criminal justice reform initiatives, such as body cameras and countywide data collection,” said Councilman Nate Nehring to the Lynnwood Times. “I believe this shows that we can be responsive to the needs of the community while maintaining a balanced budget.”
The Lynnwood Times additionally reached out to Councilmembers Sam Low, Jared Mead, and Stephanie Wright for statements relating to the disbursement of funds towards social justice initiatives in the Snohomish County 2021 budget but did not receive a response.
Executive Somers notes that Snohomish County’s leadership, inside and outside of county government, is committed to advancing social justice throughout the community.
“We have many strong partners, both inside and outside of government, to help us with this work,” said Somers. “We want Snohomish County to be a model for social justice across the region, ensuring we serve all in our community.”