By Jack Mayne

Following the onslaught of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the Burien City Council heard that citizens are being reminded that evictions are not allowed, and the needs of many residents can be helped by city staff actions and the assistance of allied agencies and groups.

Council was also told that police officers are healthy and helping citizens get the information they need.

Human resources
Colleen Brandt Schluter, the city’s Human Services Manager, says that citizens are concerned about various services and how they might be affected. She said concerns range from medical needs to rent, from child care to food, transportation to access to education.

She said the city is finding social agencies are having difficulty getting employees to work because of needs at home, increased costs for overtime and sick leave, needed extra supplies and cleaning costs and “expenses related to having to change the model of service provision” and “not reaching fundraising goals.”

Evictions not allowed
She is making “courtesy calls” to remind apartment complexes about a statewide eviction moratorium and a Burien late fee moratorium. “I know that it is so incredible scary at the time of month, but our residents and apartment managers need to know that evictions are not allowed.”

The Seattle Foundation has over $1 million to help with legal and rent issues, she said.

In addition, Brandt Schluter said the Seattle Foundation has raised $14 million in funding to be available to various needs and agencies, including low-income workers. There is $1.5 million for “a coordinated rental assistance program” than United Way of King County will lead. She said the city knows that won’t be enough and the Seattle Foundation is poised to help.

Resident needs
Brandt Schluter said the Meals on Wheels process is operational, and Highline Public Schools has several food sites, with the largest ones serving about 1,800 breakfasts and lunches and are “exploring the needs of seniors who are connected to our programs that may be in need (for) food drop (or) delivery.”

She noted the Highline and White Center food banks are “operational and providing social distancing or drive up options” and the city is working with Metro Access to deliver meals to Access riders.

Also being explored are the needs of seniors who are “connected to our programs that may be in need to food drop (or) delivery.”

She said Ecumenical Leadership Circle is partnering with the school district to provide food supply boxes and childcare for first responders. The school district is also planning to continue instructions and digital devices to those who need them and to provide free internet service through Comcast Internet Essentials program.

Highline United Methodist Church has a 24/7 shelter for up to 30 healthy vulnerable women. Hospitality House and Mary’s Place are “taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and are in active conversations with community members who may have to leave home and may need shelter,” said Brandt Schluter.

She said the best way to solve or handle problems is to use online services for help or for direction to groups that can assist citizens.

Even though there are needs to cut or restrict costs, Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx said “our human service needs are very high” and often the city doesn’t get the financial support it need to address the human service costs.

Brandt Schluter said that “oftentimes decisions are made that don’t take consideration of our most vulnerable folks living here in South King County.” Some times options are first come, first serve and “folks that don’t have access to the online application are going to get left behind.”

In the many online meetings she has had, she says she is always working to get South King County’s voice heard.

No cash flow issue
City Manager Brian Wilson said he doesn’t “anticipate a cash flow issue for the General Fund due to the healthy financial position” of the city.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory,” he told Councilmembers, and the city is “about to learn what happens when key portions of the economy shuts down for a certain amount of time. Estimating financial impacts depends greatly on when the pandemic is over and how quickly the economy can recover.”

Since the city’s sales tax revenue isn’t received until two months after it is paid, the city won’t know the “the actual impacts of the current stay home order until May and June.” Therefore the city should anticipate a loss and reduce expenses. He said the assumed loss to the city general fund is in the range of 15 to 20 percent “assuming a partial recovery from the pandemic” and that translates to $4.5 million to $6.5 million.

Wilson said the city is “fortunate to have” a reserve balance of 20 percent of its revenue income but even so “I will be establishing and implementing a plan to reduce expenses by April 16.”

He said his plan “may include” delaying some purchases and some program cuts and even furloughing of administrators and management events, plus other staff, both full and part-time.

Wilson said his plan will be monitored and “evaluated as we move forward and learn more about the financial impacts to the City of Burien as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We are going to do our part to ensure that we stay healthy and provide outstanding services to our community,” Wilson said.

Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx said she appreciated the information Wilson “shared with us.”

Councilmember Nancy Tosta expressed “sincere appreciation for the staff who I know have been working really hard in difficult conditions to pull all of this together” and now to have to contemplate the issue of furloughs that will add stress.

Police officers healthy
Police Chief Ted Boe told Council his department, police officers and support staff “have zero positive COVID-19 tests…so we are 100 percent healthy and in a good position for serving our community.”

He said there were “a lot of rumors out there” but there are no checkpoints or “martial law based” checking on the stay at home policy. Boe said there is no documentation required for being a worker in public.

“That is not required at this time,” the police chief said. As far as the activity of National Guard members, they are supporting medical facilities “and not active in the enforcement or ban” of working or congregating. He said the governor did ask police to assist the citizens. When officers see people not “social distancing” or staying at home, they go talk to them, explaining the need and reasons for those policies.

Enforcement is up to public health agencies and to the state attorney general, Boe said.

He said the Burien community has “been really responsive and really receptive and, for the most part, are following the order” to stay home and keep social distance. Calls to police have be comparable to historic numbers.

Police are focused on continuing patrol operations and continuing to monitor calls for services and to advise and assist those who cannot provide for their own shelter, Boe told Council. The police are also working King County Fire District No. 2.

Virus Hate Proclamation
Because of the origination of the COVID-19 virus discovery in China, some have blamed those of Chinese descent, prompting the Council to unanimously pass a resolution proclaiming that “hate, bigotry, and bias are not welcome in Burien and urge residents to speak up if they hear, see, or read misinformation or harassment.”

The proclamation noted that Asians are the second largest immigrant population and “communities of color make up almost half” of Burien’s population. It also notes that the virus is not caused by “race, nationality to ethnicity” and “having Chinese ancestry or any other ancestry does not make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19.”