City Manager T.C. Broadnax has proposed eliminating 217 jobs as part of his plan for a balanced budget for the 2013/14 biennium. Broadnax proposes a $398.4 million General Fund budget, which he discussed with Tacoma City Council on Oct. 2. His plan would close the $63 million shortfall for the next two-year cycle facing the city.
Of the jobs targeted for elimination, 64 are vacant positions. Broadnax said he has spoken to union representatives about union positions that could be cut. Staff in the Human Resources Department is also talking with employees on the list, to either help them shift to other jobs within city government or to prepare them for the possibility of unemployment. “I would hope there are no surprises,” he said.
For employees who will remain, Broadnax offers no cost of living adjustment for non-union members. He would restore pay cuts made this year, and eligible employees would see step increases. He also projects health care costs to rise by 12 percent a year in 2013 and 2014. Broadnax said he intends to shrink the organization so it is sustainable for the future.
Broadnax’s revenue forecast for 2013/14 shows property taxes at $106 million, up $5 million from the amount in the 2011/12 adopted budget. He has sales taxes at $80 million, down by $4 million; business taxes at $83 million, up $5 million; and utility taxes at $89 million, up $1 million. Other revenue is forecast at $39 million, down $8 million.
He proposes two new revenue sources. The first is a vehicle tab fee of $20 a year, expected to generate $3.87 million.
The second is a complete elimination of an exemption to the business and occupation tax for non-profit health care providers. Earlier this year the council reduced this exemption to 75 percent. Broadnax’s proposal would generate $5.5 million over two years.
Broadnax has proposed some reorganization of city government. The Human Rights and Human Services Department would be merged with code enforcement and Community Based Services to become the new Neighborhood and Human Services Department.
The Planning Division and Building and Land Use Services would be removed from their current home in the Community and Economic Development and become a new Planning and Development Services Department. Broadnax said he had heard interest in this from the council and the public. “It will have benefits in the long run.” Utilities would be moving from Public Works to a new Environmental Services Department.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland described the proposed budget as “honest” and “precise.” She said it is unrealistic to think the city government can continue to function without reducing in size.
Councilmember Jake Fey said he appreciated the budget for its “lack of smoke and mirrors.” Fey was the sole member to vote against the budget adopted for 2011/12, which was offered by former City Manager Eric Anderson. He said Broadnax’s proposed budget has clarity on assumptions on revenue and expenses.
Councilmember Ryan Mello said he agrees with plans for reorganization at city hall. “I think it is really responsive to the council’s priorities.” He said they would not add new staff positions and would create opportunities for more direct communication between the staff and Broadnax. He said there would be less red tape and layers of management.
He thinks the Neighborhood and Community Services Department fits well with the council’s priorities for making the city safe, clean and attractive.
Mello thinks shifting the environmental functions out of the Public Works Department makes sense, as the existing department will be able to better focus on roads and streetlights.
Mello noted he is already in favor of the $20 tab fee. The hospital B&O tax is something he said he would like to ponder and have dialogue with the public on. Mello noted tax exemptions are often used to prop up a new industry. The hospitals in Tacoma have become established, profitable operations, he noted. And they benefit from various city services, which bolster’s the city manager’s argument for eliminating the exemption.
Mello said most of the revenue projections are realistic. He would like more information on the projections for utility revenue.
The council will have ample opportunity for further discussions. During its noon study session on Oct. 9 it will examine the Tacoma Public Utilities budget. A special meeting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 11 will be devoted to city utilities, environmental services and utility rates.
The study session on Oct. 16 will be on revenues, cost drivers, salaries and benefits such as health care coverage and retirement packages. On Oct. 23 it will be on Public Works and the proposed Neighborhood and Community Services Department. On Oct. 23 the topics will be Finance Department, Tacoma Public Library, Community and Economic Development Department and Planning and Development Services. On Oct. 31 a special meeting from 1-4 p.m. will focus on Tacoma Police Department. Tacoma Fire Department will be examined on Nov. 6. On Nov. 13 the council will examine Municipal Court, Information Technology Services and Public Assembly Facilities.
The city also plans to hold public forums in the five council districts between Oct. 22 and Nov. 8.