Higher revenues, lower expenses help Tacoma’s budget outlook

Staff writerMay 1, 2014 

The next two-year budget cycle isn’t as dismal as it seemed in last year’s forecasts, a Tacoma budget writer told the City Council this week.

Instead of planning for an expected $26 million shortfall for the 2015-16 biennial budget, council members could prepare for a potential $8 million to $12 million gap if service levels remain the same, said Budget Officer Tadd Wille.

This rosy outlook relies on the city continuing to delay maintenance on city-owned property, Wille said. Such costs include replacing old seats in the Tacoma Dome, replacing older vehicles and upgrading city computers and technology infrastructure.

“This is good news. We’re not out of the woods,” said Mayor Marilyn Strickland, “… It really demonstrates we are making hard decisions. We have been really diligent and disciplined with our finances.”

The city has also found some wiggle room in the current 2013-14 budget because the city is receiving more money than it had initially projected from business, sales and property taxes, Wille told the council. Property tax collections saw the biggest increase, coming in 16 percent over projections in the first quarter of 2014.

The city is also spending less money on jail costs, employee health care and legal costs. City officials are using $11 million of the unanticipated revenue and savings to help meet their goal of boosting reserves.

The extra money also will help give pay raises to the city’s nonunion workforce for the first time in five years and make a

$4 million payment on a loan that paid for the rehabilitation of the Murray Morgan Bridge. The state Department of Transportation offered to reduce the loan from $20 million to $10 million if the city pays it all back by 2016.

Another $550,000 is earmarked to spruce up two areas of Tacoma before next year’s U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay. The city will spend about $390,000 for street maintenance and signs on South 56th Street, and $160,000 for sidewalks and landscaping in downtown Tacoma on South 13th Street between Pacific Avenue and Commerce Street.

Next month, the city will kick off a series of community budget meetings that residents can attend in person or send in feedback online. Budget meetings will happen every month through November.

The council will hold budget work sessions in October and November, and is likely to adopt the budget in December.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542

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