The City of Tacoma’s budget process is about to hit the road.
City Manager T.C. Broadnax says he’ll take Tacoma’s 2013-14 general fund budget planning out of City Hall next month and into the neighborhoods, where he’ll seek to “demystify” the process and gather input on city spending priorities from the public.
“I’m hoping this will be a much more community-oriented process this year,” he said.
Broadnax unveiled his new approach during Tuesday’s City Council study session. He also briefed members about the $11 million shortfall still facing this year’s budget.
Since he took office in February, Broadnax has held off making more budget cuts until the city learns whether it will receive federal grants that could help stave off more than 50 layoffs to police and fire employees.
The city should know within a month and a half whether it will receive the fire grant, he said. The police grant will be awarded by September.
“If we don’t get these grants, we’re going to have to resolve that issue,” Broadnax told the council. “I can assure you, we will have a balanced budget by the end of the year.”
For the next city budget, Broadnax said his approach will include a series of “community budget input meetings” in June and July, staged at neighborhood and community group forums.
Citizens will have a chance to learn how Tacoma’s budget process works and how the city spends taxpayer money, he said. A questionnaire on spending priorities will be distributed at the meetings and posted on the city’s website.
The process also will include more input upfront from City Council members. Broadnax will begin seeking the council’s budget priorities next month through a survey.
He’ll ask council members to rate elements of Tacoma’s core services by importance and task them with a spending exercise: Given only $10, members apply dollar amounts to city service areas to help develop spending priorities.
“Not that I’ll hold you to it,” Broadnax said, “but to give us some guidance and allow you to understand the difficult task that we’re going to have to go through.”
City staff will round out the budget input. In July, Broadnax will randomly select frontline employees from police, fire, public works and other major core service areas to participate in roundtable discussions and focus groups.
Broadnax said he’ll consider all feedback while drafting a budget plan to present to council in October. Then he plans to stage a second round of community meetings, as well as broadcast a video on TV Tacoma, to explain what’s in his budget proposal and what isn’t.
After the council gets the proposal, it will hold a series of public workshops to review and revise the plan before adopting a final 2013-14 budget by year’s end.
Several council members praised Broadnax for his collaborative approach.
“My compliments to you Mr. City Manager,” Councilman Jake Fey said. “This is much more meaningful than what I’ve experienced over the years I’ve been on the council.”
City budget officials already project the 2013-14 general fund faces a $40 million shortfall under current spending levels. Broadnax said Tuesday the plan he proposes will in the end include “recurring (spending) cuts, not just one-time fixes.”