The Pierce County Council has approved a 2010 budget that cuts more than 300 jobs, raises fees and paves the way for a major consolidation of county government in the year ahead.
The council Tuesday approved a $269.3 million general fund budget that’s about 7 percent smaller than the 2009 budget adopted a year ago. The result will be fewer sheriff’s deputies on the street, longer lines for building permits and sporadic closures of some county offices as employees take furloughs.
Though the budget passed with a unanimous vote, no one professed to like it.
“No one will say this is a good budget,” said council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham. “It is an ugly budget.”
Tuesday’s vote brings to a close a year of cost-cutting in county government. The council and County Executive Pat McCarthy have been forced to cut spending in response to diminished sales taxes, planning fees and other income brought on by the economic recession.
In September McCarthy proposed a 2010 budget that would cut 284 positions, eliminate services at 16 parks and otherwise trim spending.
The final budget approved by the council goes further. It cuts an additional $2.9 million from the general fund and socks away another $1.5 million in reserve to cover future budget problems.
The big loser: the planning and land services department, which lost $1.9 million on top of cuts already proposed by McCarthy. Between cuts proposed by the council and executive, the department will lose 25 positions, some through layoffs.
Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, said staffing levels in the planning department don’t reflect the low level of permitting activity he thinks will continue into 2011. But planning director Chuck Kleeberg told the council that the result will be long lines for building permits when the economy turns around.
Other departments also will reduce staff. The sheriff’s department will lose 15 deputies.
“What that will mean is there will be fewer services,” said Sheriff Paul Pastor. “The simple math is, less means less.”
Pastor said he will make the best of the resources he’s given. Crimes that threaten life and property immediately will be a top priority. But he said lower-level property crimes are “probably where things will give.”
Some departments will use furloughs – unpaid employee leave – to cut costs in 2010. Similar moves this year led departments like planning and district court to close or reduce services for several days.
Spending cuts aren’t the only means the council and executive used to balance the budget. Building permit and other planning fees will rise even as service suffers. Parks fees will increase. So will sewer and surface water rates.
The basic monthly sewer charge for a single-family residence will rise $3.93 to $29.65. That’s a 15 percent increase.
The overall county budget – including sewers, roads and a host of other services – is down 7 percent from a year ago to $793 million.
McCarthy issued a statement Wednesday noting the council included most of the budget recommendations she made in September. But she said she’s concerned about the planning department cuts. And she said the council’s budget process wasn’t transparent enough, because council members didn’t reveal the substantive changes they made until a day before the final vote.
The executive said she’ll analyze the council’s budget to make sure there are no unintended consequences. She has 10 days to decide whether to approve it or veto the measure.
Tough as the budget looks, more cuts might be on the way. The county faces several unknown or possible costs that could bust the budget.
Unemployment and other costs for closing the county’s mental health division this fall are still being calculated. County and union officials are still negotiating the cost of employee health insurance. Lawsuits and other unexpected costs also could affect the budget.
As a result, the council has asked McCarthy to report back in January on how she would cut the budget an additional 1 percent and 3 percent, if needed. And it is pushing to consolidate county departments in an effort to improve efficiency and save money.
“This may be a time when we look back and say, maybe we should have cut further,” Bush said.
David Wickert: 253-274-7341
2010 Pierce County budget at a glance
$269 million general fund, 7 percent less than a year ago. Total spending, which includes sewers, roads and other county services, also is down 7 percent to $793 million.
The budget cuts more than 300 jobs. Many already are vacant, though some departments will lay off workers. The sheriff’s department will lose 15 deputies. The planning department will cut 25 positions. Superior Court loses one of its 22 judges.
Services will be eliminated at 16 parks, including Breseman Forest, Mayfair Park, Swan Creek, Seeley Lake and the Purdy Sand Spit.
Employees get a 2.5 percent raise.
Planning and parks fees will increase. Sewer and surface water rates will rise. The basic monthly sewer charge for a single family residence will rise $3.93 to $29.65.
The budget sets aside $3 million in reserve funds to pay for future pension obligations and another $1.5 million in a reserve account to cover future budget problems.