After more than a month of presentations and some amendments, the Tacoma City Council approved its 2017-18 capital and operating budgets at Tuesday’s meeting.
The spending plan for the next two years, presented to the council Oct. 4, is notable for boosts to police and fire positions, investment in capital projects, including renovations at the Tacoma Dome, and what it didn’t cut — namely, library services.
Another thing the budget doesn’t do: Give tacit approval to the city’s plan to expand Click Cable TV to offer internet and phone service. Mayor Marilyn Strickland had argued that it would, but Tuesday said the council will have to vote on the Click plan separately at a future time.
Council members took turns praising the budget as well as City Manager T.C. Broadnax and his staff: After years of deep recession-era cuts, the budget marks a period of building back in the face of a rebounding economy.
“I can remember years ago getting through this budget time, and the chambers being full of people because we had to make so many difficult decisions, and tonight we sit here with few people from the community,” said Councilwoman Victoria Woodards. “It’s not that I think our community doesn’t care about the budget, but I think it speaks to what a great job our city manager and the staff has done.”
Last week, two more police officers and four firefighters were added to the budget, in addition to the 17 new police and eight new fire positions originally in the 2017-18 spending plan. The city is also picking up the tab for 10 officer positions and 20 firefighters previously paid with federal grants.
Some council members said the additions didn’t go far enough to restore public safety resources after years of cuts and in the face of a huge increase in property crime, but Councilman Robert Thoms called it a “step in the right direction.”
During the budget process, the city discovered $760,000 in additional revenue — $500,000 from increased liquor tax projections and $260,000 that the school district, and not the city, will pay for a school resource officer position. That money will be spent on Project PEACE, domestic violence services, the Eastside Farmers Market, the Polar Plaza ice skating rink, and to support hiring efforts in the police department, among other things.
I can remember years ago getting through this budget time, and the chambers being full of people because we had to make so many difficult decisions, and tonight we sit here with few people from the community. But it’s not that I think our community doesn’t care about the budget, but I think it speaks to what a great job our city manager and the staff has done.
Councilwoman Victoria Woodards
The budget also includes an increase in business- and pet-licensing fees. Councilman Marty Campbell voted “no” on the plan to transform the city’s annual business-licensing fee to a three-tiered system that would increase fees by $20 to $160 for all but the smallest companies. The new third tier, which would charge businesses with gross annual revenues of more than $250,000 a $250 licensing fee, would be tough on companies that barely qualify to be in that category, Campbell said. Despite his opposition to that part of the plan, Campbell voted in support of the overall budget.
Before the budget vote, the public and Councilman Conor McCarthy raised questions about whether approving the $3.2 billion budget that includes Tacoma Public Utilities would effectively be a vote to approve Click Cable TV’s transition to a business model in which it sells retail internet and phone service directly to customers.
The utility board approved that business plan in September and forwarded it to the City Council, which was expected to take a vote on it in October. But Strickland later said a vote would not be necessary because the money for that business plan is already in Tacoma Power’s budget.
Tacoma Power’s budget includes 5.9 percent rate hikes in 2017 and in 2018, the highest in more than a decade. Part of that increase is attributable to the costs of operating and upgrading Click as it expands into its new business model.
City attorney Elizabeth Pauli told McCarthy that, in her opinion, the council’s vote on the budget did not constitute a vote to approve Click’s new business plan. Strickland said the council will take a vote on Click when utility staff members present a more complete business plan for how it will transition into its new role. In the meantime, the city is seeking an independent auditor to look at Click’s books.
“I look forward to having the opportunity to approve the business plan for Click, which is going to have more detail about the product mix, the pricing structure and how we’re going to go about marketing it,” Strickland said. “I look forward to this entire Click effort finally coming to some fruition, because we have been belaboring this since 2012 and I will be hopeful that as a community, we are able to embrace change instead of consistently trying to get in the way of it.”