Tacoma’s city manager dropped a new budget reality on the city Tuesday – a reality that could mean new fees for Tacoma’s drivers and some health care businesses, reduced services for residents and the elimination of more than 200 jobs.
The grim details in T.C. Broadnax’s proposed 2013-14 general fund budget would close a projected $63 million shortfall facing the city, he told the City Council on Tuesday. Also, it would finally correct long-running but unsustainable operations for a municipal organization that simply cannot maintain the status quo, he said.
“There are a lot of things we have to do to really reset expectations by this community,” Broadnax said. “We must shrink this organization.”
With the city facing ballooning costs amid stagnant revenues, Broadnax’s $396 million proposed spending plan calls for eliminating about 217 jobs. It would involve 153 layoffs and retirements and not filling 64 vacant positions.
Police and fire would be the hardest hit, with a combined 58 positions proposed for elimination. Trims to the library budget would mean reduced hours, fewer materials and 16 staff positions gone. Deep cuts to public works also would mean fewer employees and projects.
Broadnax also proposed three major department reorganizations to help reduce costs and make city operations more efficient, he said.
Along with the spending cuts, Broadnax’s plan calls for raising more than $9 million in new revenues from two new fees and taxes. One would impose a $20 fee on vehicle license tabs, helping to raise $3.9 million over two years; another would eliminate a business tax exemption to health care nonprofits, including MultiCare and Franciscan Health Systems. That tax, adamantly opposed by the city’s health care giants earlier this year, would raise about $5.5 million during the budget cycle.
Several council members praised Broadnax for what they called a tough-but-real proposal that will chart a truer budget course for the city.
“It is unrealistic to think we cannot reduce staff to deal with a deficit this large,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.
City budget officials project about $382 million in general fund revenues over the next two years, but they estimate expenses totalling about $445 million. That leaves a $63 million gap, with the bulk of city expenses in coming years based in inflating personnel pay and benefits.
Broadnax noted his plan doesn’t include COLAs for non-union employees, but it would eliminate a furlough program that has been in place for the past year to save about 4.6 percent in non-represented workers’ pay. He also plans to restore a 5 percent pay cut taken this year by department directors.
His plan assumes no concessions from labor unions, though city officials continue to negotiate such potential give-backs, he said.
Broadnax added he remains hopeful labor unions will offer concessions to save jobs now at risk.
More than 80 percent of the proposed job cuts are union positions – about the same ratio of the city’s current work force, Broadnax said. In all, unionized general government employees are expected to receive pay increases of about $20 million over the next two years from past pay-raise deferrals, increased pay in new contracts and pending agreements still being negotiated, he said.
“I assume I’m going to pay (the bargained raises) because I’ve committed to do that,” Broadnax said.
His proposal also would assume 12 percent of annual increases for the next two years in city employee health care costs. He noted the city will soon seek bids from health care providers to compare with the city’s current plan and ensure “we’re getting the most bang for our buck.”
Tacoma’s police and fire union officials expressed unease Tuesday.
“A 10 percent cut to our department overall is obviously concerning,” said Matt Frank, vice president of the Tacoma Firefighters Union.
Police Union President Terry Krause said his group is discussing with city labor officials how to minimize the proposed police cuts, though concessions aren’t part of that conversation.
“Let’s just say we’re talking,” Krause said. “This isn’t a done deal yet.”
Police and fire, which collectively make up about 60 percent of Tacoma’s general fund expenses, face the brunt of the proposed cuts.
The police department faces 29 cuts – targeting 13 patrol officers and 16 vacancies – to save nearly $7 million. Another 29 cuts would come from the fire department – targeting 17 current commissioned firefighter positions and 12 vacancies – to save $7.3 million.
Police Chief Don Ramsdell said that if the cuts are approved, his department will be “operating at minimum patrol staffing levels.”
“Our patrol officers couldn’t be as proactive in their work,” he said.
But Ramsdell added that most of the department’s community policing resources – including all three school resource officers – would be spared under the plan.
“I really hate to see us reduce our force,” Ramsdell said, “but we’re lucky we’re not being cut as deeply as last time.”
Last year, more than 100 police and fire jobs faced the budget ax amid a projected $32 million shortfall in the 2011-12 budget. Tacoma’s public-safety unions later agreed to contract concessions to help save most front-line jobs.
About $10 million in federal grants awarded this year helped save 15 police officers’ and 37 firefighters’ jobs from a second round of proposed budget cuts. The fire grant came with a condition that no firefighter could be laid off during the grant’s three-year term, or the city faced forfeiting the federal award money.
That means that to meet Broadnax’s budget target, fire officials will seek to eliminate targeted positions through retirements, not layoffs, Fire Chief Jim Duggan said. To meet that end, the city is expected to soon offer fire employees a more generous retirement incentive than the $12,000 lump sum now offered to other general-government employees, city officials said.
“Obviously, there will be impacts and reductions in services,” Duggan added of the proposed cuts facing his department. “But we’re working hard on a plan to maintain the core services.”
As part of his proposal, Broadnax also will seek to make three major reorganizations. He plans to remove city utilities – wastewater, solid waste and surface-water services – from public works, creating an Environmental Services Department.
The city’s Human Rights/Human Services Department also would be merged with city code enforcement and Community Based Services to create a Neighborhood and Human Services Department. After Human Services director Linda Bremer retires in December, Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward would become the newly created department’s director, while also keeping her assistant executive duties.
The city’s planning division and its building and land-use services also would be removed from the Community and Economic Development Department to create a Planning and Development Services Department with a new director. That move is meant to “demystify the maze” of such city services for developers, Broadnax said.
To help him craft his budget plan, Broadnax held a series of public meetings to gauge residents’ priorities in city services and sought input from city employees. He also asked each of his department heads to propose trims of 15 percent from his or her budget.
Broadnax’s proposal will be examined and tweaked during public meetings in the coming weeks before the City Council adopts a final plan in December.
Councilman Jake Fey called Broadnax’s plan an “honest” and “transparent” presentation – a stark contrast from his descriptions of the budget process employed by Broadnax’s predecessor, Eric Anderson. Some blame Anderson for the city’s financial problems.
“I just note the lack of smoke and mirrors in here,” Fey said of Broadnax’s plan.