Budget Battle (Round Two): ‘Breakthrough Changes’ top priorities at next council meeting

The Tacoma city council is expected to adopt a resolution on Tues., Jan. 4 endorsing a so-called Breakthrough Change initiative designed to create efficiencies in city government and generate additional funds for the 2005-2006 biennium.

The plan, recommended by City Manager Jim Walton, calls for action in the following areas:

Organizational Restructuring – eliminating layers of management; addressing span of control issues at mid-management; looking at management and administrative positions; organizing around service areas; and looking for permanent program and service elimination options.

Risk Management – reducing liability costs; and reducing the number of Worker Compensation claims and their average cost.

Employee Compensation and Benefits – adopting long-term compensation and benefit changes including cost-of-living adjustments, longevity pay and participation in health premiums; reviewing the use of overtime; examining consumer driven healthcare and containing the costs related to health care, prescription drugs and disease management.

Vehicles and Equipment – reviewing the practice of assigning vehicles; reducing the cost of fleet maintenance and vehicle purchases; exploring options for outsourcing the asphalt plant; assessing the feasibility of consolidating IT staff in the BIS Department; and determining the impact of outsourcing information technology.

The initiative follows the city council’s budget approval on Dec. 14, which closed a $29.6 million budget deficit.

On Oct. 23, Walton presented budget recommendations that proposed using $7 million in carryover funds from the current budget cycle along with more than $16 million in service reductions and efficiency savings and more than $4 million in new revenues to balance the 2005-2006 budget.

The city council held a series of workshops and meetings designed to solicit public comment and finalize the budget.

It approved a budget based upon that work.

Still, the council faces budget concerns in the New Year.

The approved budget provides funding for Tacoma Fire Station #13, located in the Proctor District, and Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) through 2005 (not 2006). These two issues were the most divisive during the budget balancing process; many Tacoma residents generated petitions to support funding for firefighters and CLOs, and dominated budgetary public comment at city council meetings.

Though the council has said it intends to fully fund police and fire services in 2006, how it plans to do so is uncertain — and surely promises to be an issue of controversy next year.

One controversial funding idea calls for a lift on the city’s “levy lid” — a law that limits property tax increases to 1 percent a year. To do so, however, would require voter approval.

Another plan calls for the Budget Breakthrough initiative, which the council is expected to adopt as a resolution on Jan. 4. Such a decision would allow City Manager Walton to appoint employees to serve on four teams to address each of these four areas. These teams would report to Walton and provide results of their findings to city council.

“I call this ‘Breakthrough Change’ because we’re going to need to break through our old habits of thinking and see the possibilities for change in these areas,” Walton told city employees earlier this month.