Despite fairly gloomy budget projections and a May memo sent to department heads telling them to prepare to curtail spending by 2 to 4 percent, the proposed 2017-18 budget for the city of Tacoma is notably absent major cuts or reductions in service.
In fact, it includes many adds that City Council members — and residents — have been seeking. It would add police officers and firefighters, make improvements at the Tacoma Dome and help build the East Side Community Center. The proposal is also notable for one thing it doesn’t do: Close library branches.
City manager T.C. Broadnax said this budget puts the city in a position of playing offense instead of defense for the first time in many years. He unveiled the highlights at a study session on Tuesday in the council’s freshly-renovated chambers. It was the first of six presentations between now and Nov. 8.
“I think we’re looking much better than we thought we were,” he said before the presentation Tuesday. “I’m excited. I think there are a lot of things the community has asked for in this budget.”
$3.2 billion city of Tacoma’s proposed 2017-18 budget
$1.2 billion Tacoma Public Utilities proposed 2017-18 budget
$460 million city’s proposed 2017-18 general fund budget
Just a few months ago, the city had projected a $6.7 million shortfall for 2017-18, leading many to expect cuts.
But the economy is looking up, and tax revenues have been steadily improving, Broadnax said. The city also had some savings and higher revenues than anticipated in 2015-16. That, combined with positive trends in real estate excise tax collections, will allow the city to plan for almost $20 million in one-time general fund spending in the next budget.
On top of upward trends in taxes, the city also is proposing increased fees for animal and business licensing in its 2017-18 budget that will together create about $4 million in revenue during the two-year budget cycle. Pet licenses would increase by $5 to $10, and business licenses by $20 to $160 for all but the smallest of companies.
Under Broadnax’s proposal, the Police Department gets 17 new positions, including two property crimes detectives, an animal control officer, a seven-member Violence Reduction Team, and a community relations specialist, among others.
The Fire Department would add eight new firefighter positions, and Squad 15 in East Tacoma would be restored to a three-person engine company.
The Tacoma Dome also is slated to get $19.8 million worth of upgrades, paid for by bonds. The plan is to replace the aging upper and lower bowl seating, update dressing rooms and the fire alarm system, and build loading docks.
The proposed budget also includes $5 million for the East Side Community Center, a $29 million partnership with Metro Parks Tacoma, Tacoma Public Schools and the Boys & Girls Club that will include a gym, swimming pool and after-school programs. That project is expected to break ground in December.
Other highlights: The budget also includes a plan that will allow glass to be commingled with other recyclables in recycling bins.
And it includes a partnership with Tacoma Public Utilities to replace 75 percent of the city’s street lights with LED technology.
The list goes on. The city’s nearly $3.2 billion spending plan (including about $1.2 billion for TPU) includes a general fund of $460 million, $35 million more than the general fund in 2015-16.
“For the first time in awhile in this biennium we are able to match ongoing revenues with ongoing expenditures, so we’re structurally balanced,” Broadnax said. “We’ve been balanced in the past, but we’ve always had to use one-time funding to shore up when we didn’t have ongoing revenues.”
For the first time in awhile in this biennium we are able to match ongoing revenues with ongoing expenditures, so we’re structurally balanced
City manager T.C. Broadnax
A few things didn’t make it into the 2017-18 proposed budget, including funding for the Tacoma Link expansion into Stadium and the Hilltop, expected to be complete around 2021. That project will cost between $165 million and $175 million, with Sound Transit and a federal grant funding most of the project, said city budget director Tadd Wille.
Most of the city’s expected contribution of between $40 million and $45 million has been secured through grants, Wille said, and while there’s still a gap in funding, the city likely won’t need to make any contributions to the project until the 2019-20 budget.
Broadnax also didn’t call for library branch closures, as was feared this summer.
The Kobetich branch in Northeast Tacoma, which might have faced the chopping block if the library had been forced to cut 4 percent as the city had initially targeted, will instead get a new roof, and the South Tacoma branch will be refurbished as well.
Several members of the City Council praised Broadnax and city staff for expanding instead of trimming, as has often been the case since the recession.
“This looks like a very responsible, promising document,” Councilman Anders Ibsen said. “I’ve heard and read a lot of comments from people in my district and throughout the city about their concerns, and I have to say from the onset, hearing about a $7 million shortfall, a lot of people were bracing for cuts. They were wondering where the ax was going to fall.”
Other highlights of the proposed 2017-18 budget:
- Tacoma Police Department will get 17 new full-time positions, including: a seven-member Violence Reduction Team ($1.8 million); two property crimes detectives ($650,000); two background investigators ($485,000); animal control officer ($195,000); school resource sergeant ($344,000); advanced training officer ($247,000); latent print examiner ($210,000); computer services technician ($161,000); and a community relations specialist ($210,000)
- Eight new positions are budgeted in the fire department, including four positions to add an aid vehicle to address the high volume of emergency medical services calls ($950,000) and four positions to restore Squad 15 in East Tacoma to a three-person engine company ($850,000). The fire department will also get a new fire alerting system ($400,000)
- Facilities upgrades at the main library branch, Kobetich branch and South Tacoma branch ($635,000)
- New school zone flashing beacons at 14 schools ($1 million)
- Foss Waterway improvements ($2.5 million)
- Teen home and youth shelter for extended stays for homeless youth ages 13 to 17 (an additional $1 million)
- “Hot spot hardening” to clean up homeless encampments and make them less attractive places to camp ($825,000)
- Broadway Center for the Performing Arts capital campaign ($3 million)
- General government fleet replacement for police, fire and public works replacement vehicles ($5 million)
- A surface water rate increase of 0.5 percent in both years will generate $500,000 in new revenue for restoring and maintaining open space