Council approves Breakthrough Change resolution: Decision directs city manager to target municipal cost-saving opportunities

City Council members unanimously approved a resolution that would express support for the Tacoma City Manager Jim Walton’s Breakthrough Change initiative in a roll-call vote Jan. 4.

The initiative aims to reduce General Fund expenses over the long term by making structural changes in the way the City of Tacoma is organized and operated.

Walton outlined the initiative at a 12 p.m. study session on Tuesday, prior to the city council meeting. He noted that the City Council’s work last month to balance the 2005-2006 budget “challenged all of us, and should give us pause” before describing the Breakthrough Change initiative in detail.

“During the budget-balancing process, we identified the ‘essentials’ against the ‘desirables,’” Walton explained, “That was a good piece of base work to allow us to be more knowledgeable about how we spend our money in Tacoma. This initiative provides for sustainable adjustments over time.”

Walton told the study session’s attendees, which included city council members and Mayor Bill Baarsma, that the city would face $91 million deficits and adjustments through 2010 if it did not take the action outlined in the Breakthrough Change initiative.

The City Council’s decision allows Walton to implement these initiatives by appointing City of Tacoma employees to serve on committees examining each of the four priority 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.

Each team will consist of one chairperson and up to 12 members, and will report to an Executive Leadership Team.

The earliest and most divisive issue appears to be employee compensation and benefits. “This is where we spend most of our money,” Walton explained. “This is the most challenging area.”

Another challenge, specifically in the area of employee compensation and benefits, could be the Joint Labor Committee role and support. “Inviting people from Joint Labor to be at the table could be seen as a risk,” said Walton. “We need to see them as a resource for a possible solution, rather than an enemy.”

Mayor Baarsma concurred. “An element of trust and a level of openness is the key,” he explained. “There has to be a collaborative interest.”
Deputy Mayor Bill Evans said, “Labor knows they must be part of the solution. I’m happy to see them included.”

The four teams include spots for Joint Labor representatives to serve as committee members. At the study session, Woodrow Jones, Jr., the city’s human resources director, indicated that four individuals from local labor unions were invited to join the committees, but have yet to accept these invitations.

Mayor Baarsma told study session attendees that input from public citizens and city employees would be encouraged throughout the Breakthrough Change initiative process. “The best resources are human resources,” he said. “City employees have tremendous suggestions, and I hope these teams will reach out for input from rank-and-file for the solution.”

He added, “Our budget work has not ended. It’s just started.”

For more information about the Breakthrough Change initiative, visit