In an email sent to city employees Wednesday, Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax warned of taking “dramatic steps” regarding city staffing and service levels in the 2013-14 budget proposal he’ll unveil early next month.
Broadnax’s email doesn’t cite specific numbers, but three city sources familiar with the budget discussions confirmed this week he is targeting cuts to 200 city jobs.
“Tacoma’s financial challenges are substantial,” Broadnax said in Wednesday’s email. “The City continues to face severe budget challenges, which will be extremely difficult for all involved and requires a resetting of expectations for the future. We must submit a balanced budget and to do so must take dramatic steps, including the elimination of more positions and in some cases a reduction in services.”
Reached by phone Thursday, city spokeswoman Gwen Schuler said she was unable to immediately speak with a reporter about potential budget cuts.
Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey said Wednesday he doesn’t know how many positions Broadnax might target. Asked if the 200 figure seemed outlandish, Fey responded: “How could there not be substantial layoffs? We’re facing a $60 million gap, right?”
Fey noted the city’s talks about employee concessions remain ongoing with labor unions. Such discussions could affect any final number for job reductions that would be included in Broadnax’s budget proposal, he said.
“Concessions save jobs, retirements save jobs,” Fey said.
Alice Phillips, chairwoman of the Tacoma Joint Labor Committee, did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.
A recent notice sent by the city’s Human Resources Department to employees has offered a $12,000 buyout incentive to eligible employees who opt to retire.
“If we can encourage those who are eligible to retire, hopefully that will save jobs,” Councilman Ryan Mello said Thursday.
The city made a similar offer to employees amid a 2011-12 budget crisis. After the city notified 167 employees in December their jobs were at risk, at least 58 employees took the buyout offer and retired Jan. 1.
In June, city budget officials publicly presented a grim budget forecast to the council that projected a $60 million to $65 million shortfall for the 2013-14 general fund – the spending plan that pays for basic city services such as police, fire, libraries and street maintenance. About 70 percent of the budget’s costs involve paying pay and benefits for some 2,300 general government employees.
During his budget planning, Broadnax has sought advice from the public and city employees on general fund spending priorities. He also has asked each director of a city department to provide him with a plan to cut spending by 15 percent in their respective departments. Broadnax is expected to present his budget plan to the City Council on Oct. 2.
“The harsh reality is we cannot sustain current levels of service or current levels of staffing in the future,” Broadnax said in his email to employees. ”Going forward, it is imperative that we be pragmatic and honest about what we can and cannot do, what is possible and how we need to prioritize our resources in order to best serve the community.”
Councilwoman Lauren Walker said Thursday she hadn’t yet read Broadnax’s email, nor did she know specifics of his forthcoming budget plan.
“These are hard times, and we will all get through this to the best of our abilities,” Walker said.