Tacoma’s proposed budget tackles housing, deferred maintenance, streets and false alarms

The Tacoma Dome is among the city venues slated for security upgrades in the city’s next budget.
The Tacoma Dome is among the city venues slated for security upgrades in the city’s next budget. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

Tacoma’s proposed $3.5 billion budget for the next two years raises its reserves, shores up sidewalks and starts paying into an affordable housing trust fund.

And that’s just for starters.

There’s also money to again operate the city’s libraries six days a week, replace aging emergency vehicles, staff Fire Station 13 in the Proctor neighborhood around the clock, hire more police patrol officers and help fund the new Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel Park on the Foss Waterway.

Also proposed are new real estate permitting fees to allow for faster turnarounds and fines to cut back on false fire alarms and non-emergency calls from senior living facilities.

The “budget book” for the city’s spending in 2019-20 on traditional services (including fire, police, public works and libraries) was presented to the City Council earlier this month, allowing council members and residents a look at the numbers, down to the line items. At more than 600 pages, there’s a lot to mull.

(You can view the budget by following the link at https://bit.ly/2IPrx3d.)

In May, the city’s budget office projected a shortfall of at least $5.3 million in the general fund for 2019-20. The possible shortfall was eliminated thanks to spending cuts and updated projections for revenue and health-care costs, city officials said.

In a presentation the the City Council on Oct. 2, City Manger Elizabeth Pauli noted five priorities residents said they wanted addressed in the budget: affordable housing, homelessness, public safety, economic development and transit access. All are included in the proposed budget, she said.

In round numbers, the budget’s $515 million general fund sets aside these amounts for:

Police, $175.5 million.

Fire, $125.2 million.

Libraries, $28.2 million.

Neighborhood and community services, $26.3 million.

Other public safety-related expenses, $32.8 million.

Public Works, $6 million.

Public Works-related costs, $27.4 million.

Other departments, including Finance, Community and Economic Development and City Attorney’s Office, $37.8 million.

Non-departmental, $55.4 million.

Here are highlights of the budget:

AFFORDABLE HOUSING: $1.2 million to seed the creation of a Affordable Housing Trust Fund and hire two full-time positions to implement the housing strategy.

HOMELESSNESS: $200,000 to help low-income tenants take advantage of other affordable housing options when faced with rents rising above their income levels.

About $2.3 million would go to continue funding the Stability Site on Puyallup Avenue for one year. (The site provides shelter to more than 80 people every night.)

Other spending: $200,000 to help homeless shelters increase capacity and $800,000 to set up a crisis center to help provide stability and shelter for homeless youths.

FIRE: $180,000 to provide 24-hour response by fire engines from Fire Station 13 at 3825 N. 25th St.

Other spending: $1.2 million to replace two fire engines and $1 million so the Fire Department can develop a long-term strategy for maintenance and construction of its facilities.

Another $1.7 million would be spent to build a new fire station on the Tideflats, bringing total funding to $7 million. That includes $4.5 million from Puget Sound Energy. The station would provide fire and EMS response, and could deal with hazardous materials incidents in and around the Port of Tacoma.

POLICE: $1 million to hire five patrol officers and increase funding for training, equipment and officer wellness and add a hiring sergeant to support the department’s goal of a 20 percent increase in department personnel from under-represented neighborhoods by 2020.

The budget also includes $500,000 to further implement Project PEACE action items and $500,000 to boost resources for criminal investigations, including improved management of forensic laboratory evidence, a digital evidence-management system, forensics lab equipment, crime scene mapping laser technology and online tracking of sales of stolen goods.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: $50,000 to develop an Economic Development Strategic Plan.

CITY ASSET MANAGEMENT: $1.9 million for modernizing security at city-owned venues, including video monitoring systems and improved lighting at the Tacoma Dome and a new digital video safety system, plus servers and new carpeting for the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.

Additionally, $3.3 million would be spent on deferred maintenance at city facilities, such as fire stations, Public Works facilities and the Tacoma Municipal Building. The work would include roof replacements, heating and cooling upgrades, window replacements and exterior repairs.

Other spending: $8.4 million to replace city vehicles — $5 million for police, $1.2 million for fire and $2.2 million for general government.

WALKABILITY: $4 million in new funding for various projects. Mary Lyon and Whitman elementary schools are the next two schools in the Safe Routes to School Action Plan, getting $700,000. Another $1 million would be spent on 23 flashing beacons for nine schools.

Other spending: $500,000 to install sidewalks along East 56th Street from McKinley Avenue to Portland Avenue; $1 million for asphalt sidewalks along Sheridan Avenue between South 61st to South 84th streets, providing access to Birney Elementary School, Baker Middle School, Wapato Park and Frank Alling Park.

Another $1.2 million would go to the Residential Sidewalk Reconstruction program, which partners with property owners to rebuild 300 to 420 sidewalks in the next two years.

STREETS: The city continues to carry out the voter-approved Streets Initiative of 2015, which dedicated increases in property, utility and sales tax revenues to repair or improve city streets. About $43 million would go to improve or maintain streets in about 1,200 city blocks.

REGIONAL: A $500,000 contribution to complete the connection between state Route 167 in Puyallup and state Route 509 in Tacoma. Another $750,000 would go to the new Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel Park.

DIGITAL: $400,000 to install and provide public Wi-Fi along the Hilltop Light Rail expansion route.

Another $500,000 would be spent to upgrade software so residents and businesses could use tablets and smartphones to fill out forms needed to access city services. The upgrade also would allow online forms to be translated into languages other than English.

LIBRARY: $1 million to improve digital infrastructure at city libraries and $200,000 so the branches again can operate six days a week. The Remote Library program would provide Wi-Fi hotspots and tablets for checkout.

Two new Remote Library kiosks are proposed for the Hilltop and Eastside neighborhoods. Another $1.7 million would go to upgrade heating and cooling systems as well as replace outdated equipment, roofs and windows at several branches.

Various fees and fines are proposed in the budget:

FIRE FALSE ALARMS: $150 per residential incident and $250 per commercial incident, estimated to bring in $489,000 over two years. The budget report notes the Fire Department responds to more than 1,300 false fire alarms every year.

NONEMERGENCY LIFT ASSIST: $850 when a registered adult family home, skilled nursing facility or assisted living facility calls for help lifting a fallen resident when no other medical service is needed. This proposed fine for the sites is estimated to raise $509,000 in the next two years. The report says Tacoma Fire responds to about 350 such calls each year.

PERMIT FEES, RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE: Increases in various fees to cover the cost of shortening the time needed to process residential and commercial permits. Estimated to raise $160,000 from residential construction permit fees and more than $2 million in commercial, pre-application and land use permit fees over two years.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell


Want to dive deeper? Individual city departments will make budget presentations to the Tacoma City Council at upcoming work sessions through Oct. 30. The sessions will be at noon Tuesdays in the Council Chambers at 747 Market St.

“Members of the community are invited to attend but there will not be an opportunity to comment on the presentations or the proposed budget,” according the city’s website.

The schedule:

Oct. 16: Utilities.

Oct. 23: Public safety and homelessness.

Oct. 30: Library and nondepartmental.

Residents can meet with City Council members at a series of town halls:

6-8 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Center at Norpoint, 4818 Nassau Ave., with Councilmen Justin Camarata and Ryan Mello.

6-8 p.m. Oct. 22 at Wilson High School, 1202 N. Orchard St., with Deputy Mayor Anders Ibsen and Councilman Keith Blocker.

2-4 p.m. Oct. 27 at the STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St., with Councilman Chris Beale and Councilwoman Lillian Hunter. (Food, child care and Spanish language interpretation will be provided.)

The budget is set for tentative adoption at Nov. 20’s council meeting.