The city of Tacoma could add the equivalent of 110 full-time jobs back to the city’s payroll if the City Council adopts a proposed 2015-2016 budget.
The budget proposal from City Manager T.C. Broadnax is a stark change from the budget adopted two years ago, when the city shed more than 200 positions through attrition, retirements and layoffs.
Broadnax presented a spending plan that earmarks $1.8 billion for general government and $1.3 billion for Tacoma Public Utilities to the council Tuesday.
Thanks in part to a rebounding economy, lower than anticipated health care costs and department directors willing to squeeze their budgets, the city also can fill its reserve account, Broadnax said.
“This seems a little bit more manageable than last time,” Councilman David Boe said.
The two-year budget proposal would be a 10.9 percent increase over the adopted budget for 2013-14.
There will still be staff cuts in select areas, Broadnax said, either by attrition or by eliminating open positions. However, firefighter and police officer staffing would be protected from cuts.
Last week the city announced it had received a $3.4 million federal grant, which will pay the cost of 10 police officers for the next three years. The award was welcome news as Broadnax had asked the police and fire departments to suggest cuts of up to 5 percent.
Other department heads were told to plan cuts of up to 7 percent, Broadnax said.
“We asked them to provide options and things they would have to consider (for cuts) if we had to go there,” Broadnax said Tuesday. “Luckily we did not have to go there.”
Broadnax’s plan adds a five-person crew dedicated to pothole repair. The pothole crew and equipment is expected to cost $2.6 million for the two-year period.
In the last two years, city crews have fixed 3,640 potholes. The dedicated five-person crew would fix another 6,200 over the next two years, Broadnax said.
The budget also contains $4.2 million for revitalization projects for the Lincoln Business District, and another $1 million to start a similar project in the South Tacoma Business District. Improving those business districts was identified as one of the top five City Council priorities at the beginning of this year.
Other new expenses in this budget would include:
• $100,000 to support the creation of a University of Washington Tacoma law school.
• $350,000 for beautification and signs near at least four major entry points to Tacoma.
• $400,000 for a system to track and check out library materials, called radio frequency identification.
• $290,000 to pay for safety improvements for the U.S. Open next year. This includes downtown bicycle patrols and for officers who staff the event.
• $900,000 to add more restrooms at the Tacoma Dome.
• $450,000 to add LED lights at the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center.
• $2.8 million to replace 45 police patrol cars, one fire pumper truck and a public works water truck.
Broadnax said department heads were able to trim $6.6 million from the expected costs of continuing existing services. Health care costs also came in lower than expected. Next year, the city expects to pay the same for employee health coverage as it does now. In 2016, any health care increase can be paid for with money set aside from prior health care savings, he said.
The city would also raise new sources of revenue under Broadnax’s plan.
• The city will hire four staff to find businesses that are not paying business and occupation tax. After expenses, the program is expected to net the city $1.3 million over two years, Broadnax said.
• The city could start charging businesses, industries and multi-family housing for fire inspections, which could generate $450,000 in two years.
The budget also includes a proposal to charge Tacoma Water’s customers within the city limits a per-month fee for fire hydrant maintenance, which costs the city $3.5 million over two years. By 2016, the fee would amount to $2.25 to $2.50 per month on each bill, Broadnax said.
By the end of 2016, Broadnax’s plan would allow the city to build its reserve account to $30 million – 15 percent of annual expenses for the city’s $423.3 million biennial general fund budget. With a better bond rating, a city can borrow money at a lower interest rate, saving taxpayers money.
The council will receive more detail on various departmental budgets in meetings later this year. It is scheduled to adopt the budget in December.