A tough round of budget choices is shaping up this fall for Pierce County government, with across-the-board cuts of 3 percent looming next year for services ranging from law enforcement to parks, from building permits to emergency management.
Department leaders have already submitted proposals for how they’d carry out those cuts. Their proposals will shape the budget plan Pierce County Chief Executive Pat McCarthy will submit to the County Council in September. At least two department leaders said they’d cut staff if the county’s final budget includes those reductions.
In an Aug. 2 memo, McCarthy directed all department heads to draw up proposals for spending cuts. She told them the slow recovery from the recession demands that they rethink how to deliver services to residents, including considering whether to eliminate certain programs.
McCarthy had previously asked them to write budgets reflecting cost-cutting scenarios of 2 percent to 5 percent.
“The easiest cuts – if any can be described as easy – were made three years ago. But this is the new normal,” she wrote in her memo. “The economy will not fully recover for years, so it is imperative that you again carefully evaluate programs and consider if the wiser course is to eliminate one to preserve others, rather than continue to dilute them all.”
Finance director Gary Robinson declined to specify how much money the county is looking to save because the cuts are not driven purely by an anticipated drop in revenue. Rising fixed costs also contributed to the call to reduce expenses, such as a projected increase in pension contributions, he said.
A 3 percent cut from this year’s general fund spending of $273.5 million would be about $8.2 million. General fund spending for Pierce County remains below its 2008 peak of $278 million.
Law enforcement leaders are sounding an alarm about how the projected cuts could affect public safety.
Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor on Monday told a council task force that a 3 percent cut would compel him to lay off five deputies.
District Attorney Mark Lindquist said in an interview that his department would lay off four attorneys, three legal assistants and three victims advocates if the council calls for a 3 percent cut of roughly $800,000 to his office.
“This may save money in the short term, but the damage to the community is long term and I don’t want to go there,” Lindquist said.
Pierce County spokesman Hunter George said the county is meeting its budget plan for this year despite a rise in jail overtime. He said there is no plan to revise the 2012 budget at this time.
“There is no shortfall; we’re fine for this year,” he said.
He said the county would disclose the 2013 plan next month for several weeks of public hearings. He said the county is in negotiations with its bargaining units but that he could not provide details about the talks.
“Next year’s budget looks very challenging,” he firstname.lastname@example.org