Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

City budget now faces a vote next week

All of the formal workshops and study sessions for the city’s budget that covers the next two years are done. It is now a matter of a vote set for Dec. 4. Tacoma City Council already approved the creation of a Transportation Benefit District that will now charge $20 for annual car tab renewals to fund $3.4 million in street repairs and the end of an exemption for non-profit hospitals that will raise another $5.5 million for city services. A saving grace was an actual drop by 5 percent in the health care premiums for city workers that had been projected to rise 12 percent. That shift means a savings of $3.5 million. But staff reductions and cuts are still in the works. Cuts of about 15 percent have been laid out for each department as the city faces down a $63 million projected General Fund shortfall that will mean more than 200 fewer jobs linked to city hall.

The City of Tacoma’s proposed budget for 2013-14 has 3,545.7 authorized positions in all the funds within the city’s financial structure. That is a drop of 326.3 positions, although only about 200 are paid for through the General Fund. The biggest impacts of those cuts will be felt by the closing or downsizing of fire stations, the shuffling of police duties away from proactive activities to beat patrols and smaller selections at library branches. Oh yeah, and the mushrooming of even more potholes around the city as the Public Works Department will be cut by 45 percent under the proposed budget plan for 2013-14, from $231 million under the current budget to about $104 million. The cuts translate to the loss of about 80 positions from a department that once had a payroll of about 250 people. About 71 of those job losses will come in the division tasked directly with maintaining streets. But there will be other cuts. The Tacoma Municipal Court, which handles misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases, however, will see a budget increase of about $100,000 to $9.7 million even as it cuts two positions. The rise comes from an increase in contract services such as technology technicians, attorney fees and jury costs. The court had been paying jurors $12 a day and now will pay $16 since that is the rate Pierce County pays out and passes on to Tacoma when it pulls jurors from the county pool. “We have no control over those costs,” Judge Elizabeth Verhey said. The court’s new online payment system will cost more in the short term as well but eventually will free up a processor position to work on the two-month backlog already clogging up the notification system for licensing changes. The court is also looking to begin alternative sentencing options such as home monitoring and litter crews to avoid jail sentences for nonviolent offenders.

The city’s Information Technology Department, which will have its budget cut by 10.9 percent to $55.2 million, is several years into an effort to cut costs through the use of recycled paper, setting the printers to make double-sided documents and mothballing unused printers. Some 26 positions will be cut from the 132-worker department. The city also once had a printer for every three employees and is now down to one for every eight workers through the use of printer-fax-copier equipment. None of these cuts have come without people having their say. The city has had workshops for each department as well as a roster of community forums on the budget in general. City records show that 156 residents attended at least one of the neighborhood forums. Most of the speakers during those forums talked about the need to avoid cuts to police, fire and street repairs while also avoiding higher taxes and fees, which is an impossible task with a shortfall of Tacoma’s size.