Layoffs, fee hikes and an end to poll voting may be on the table as Pierce County struggles to close a $13 million budget gap in coming months.
Budget director Pat Kenney told the County Council on Tuesday that across-the-board spending cuts of at least 1 percent in all departments also are under consideration as the county faces shrinking sales tax and other revenue.
Despite recent budget cuts, Kenney said the county faces an $8 million revenue shortfall this year in its $281 million general fund budget. And the county will need to find at least another $5 million in savings in 2010.
“You’re not going to make things balance next year without making some cuts,” Kenney told the council at a budget retreat. “They’re going to be painful and they’re going to be noticeable.”
In March the council cut spending and made other adjustments to plug an $8 million revenue shortfall.
The fallout from those cuts will be felt in coming months. Among other things, the planning department is closing its development center for nine days this year, the sheriff’s department might reduce lake patrols this summer and the county is considering transferring parks to other local governments.
But as sales taxes, planning fees and other sources of income continue to slump, the county’s budget problems are getting worse.
Kenney said County Executive Pat McCarthy is considering several options to balance this year’s budget:
• A 1 percent across-the-board cut in all departments would save $2.5 million.
• The county may save $1.5 million from state pension-rate changes.
• The county could save $1 million by delaying renovation of a pod at the jail.
Kenney said the executive also may lower general fund contributions to some other funds (like those set aside for information technology or facilities needs).
And she’s considering laying off employees at the planning department, which has seen its workload reduced because of a slowdown in construction. Kenney stressed that no final decisions about how to balance the budget have been made.
He said this year’s revenue shortfall may continue to grow. And balancing next year’s budget might be even more difficult.
That’s because this year’s budget relies on $5 million from the general fund reserve. To keep a minimum general fund balance, Kenney said McCarthy’s proposed 2010 budget most likely will include no use of the fund.
That means the county would have to cut an additional $5 million in spending heading into 2010.
Though McCarthy’s 2010 budget isn’t due until September, Kenney offered a sneak preview of the executive’s thinking:
• She already has asked department heads to assume their budgets will be cut 1 percent from current 2009 levels.
• She likely will recommend dramatic cuts in spending on community groups and other projects found in the county’s “miscellaneous current expense” budget. That budget totals $4 million this year.
• She likely will recommend a significant increase in planning department fees. Kenney said the idea would be to have fees cover 80 percent of the department’s budget. Currently they cover just 44 percent.
• Kenney said McCarthy’s 2010 budget will assume that voters will repeal ranked choice voting in November. He said the executive also will propose closing the polls and switching Pierce County to vote-by-mail to save money.
Reaction to that proposal suggests that protecting the polls remains a priority among council members. Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, noted the council just last week rebuffed a request by Auditor Jan Shabro to close the polls this year to save money.
“It might be helpful if (McCarthy) reviewed the last council meeting,” Bush told Kenney.
The council likely will take up another round of 2009 budget cuts next month. And it will have the final say about the 2010 budget this fall.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341