The Pierce County Council cut $4.9 million from the county’s budget Tuesday to offset declining sales tax and other revenue.
It was smaller than the $5.4 million cut originally proposed. But the 1.8 percent cut to the county’s $269.3 million general fund still will mean cuts to popular programs such as 4-H and perhaps layoffs in some departments.
And the cuts likely aren’t over. Council members struck a pessimistic tone as they talked about the county’s financial position over the coming year.
“This is not going to get any prettier,” Councilman Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma, told several dozen people who attended Tuesday’s meeting.
That’s been a familiar refrain as Pierce County has trimmed its budget several times over the last year. To balance this year’s budget, the council cut more than 300 jobs, raised fees and eliminated services at 16 parks.
But sales tax receipts and planning department fees and charges have continued to decline as the effects of the economic recession linger. In response, the council’s rules committee Monday approved $5.4 million worth of spending cuts and other budget adjustments.
County Executive Pat McCarthy asked the council not to cut so deeply. Negotiations among county officials continued through Tuesday, resulting in the smaller reduction.
Among the changes:
• The Sheriff’s Department, which originally was not cut, volunteered to take a 1 percent cut to its corrections budget. The $478,000 cut will come from reduced overtime and from five fewer full-time jobs.
• The council increased its projected revenue from the planning department by $300,000 because of higher-than-expected building and development permit activity in March.
As a result, the council adjusted spending on numerous departments and programs. One beneficiary: the planning department, which will be cut $1.1 million instead of $1.6 million. The department still might have to lay off employees.
The council also found more money for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Parks and Recreation.
The Washington State University Pierce County Extension Service also benefited form the changes. Instead of the $200,000 cut originally proposed, the extension service will take a $100,000 hit. That’s still a 25 percent decrease in its county funding.
The council approved a provision specifying that the extension service could cut spending on its 4-H programs by only 25 percent. The move came as dozens of 4-H supporters urged the council to spare the program.
“Without 4-H, I don’t know where I’d be today,” one youth told the council.
Council members were sympathetic – to a point.
“It’s very, very difficult emotionally to cut programs that are so meaningful to folks like yourself,” Councilman Terry Lee, R-Gig Harbor, told the crowd. But he said the council’s commitment to public safety required that it cut deeper elsewhere in the budget.
A day after criticizing the council for unveiling proposed budget cuts just a few days before taking final action, McCarthy praised it for addressing many of her concerns. She said the council had found a “positive path forward, given these difficult financial times.”
But differences remain. McCarthy has said the county is not experiencing a financial crisis. Councilman Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, disagreed.
Muri said flat revenues and rising labor and other expenses will create more problems as the county wrestles with next year’s budget.
“The crisis looming is not in 2010,” he said. “The crisis looming is in 2011.”
David Wickert: 253-274-7341