Council hears about results oriented government priorities

Continuing a July 21 budget workshop, City Council members heard an overview of strategies from the results oriented government strategic priorities team during Tuesday’s study session.

With some estimates indicating a $25 million to $30 million shortfall for the 2005-2006 biennial budget, a draft of the plan outlines 10 ways for the city to operate more efficiently and save money.

City Manger Jim Walton called the recommendations a “small piece of the budget pie.”

1. Review service delivery to reduce costs through efficiency, consolidation, regional collaboration and alternative service deliveries: This mostly involved the city’s fire and police departments.

Fire Chief Eileen Lewis said the department would look at how to best manage its resources, including deferring expenses of between $870,000 to $1.75 million per EMS response unit that is added to meed demands instead of the traditional engine company.

Police Chief Don Ramsdell said the department is examining its options as well, including possible savings that will come about as the result of a future move to its new headquarters. “We are continuing efforts at looking into this,” he said.

“There’s nothing that says we can’t phase in some of these recommendations,” said Woodrow Jones, Human Resources director.

2. Increase revenue from city-owned utility operations by expanding service area or wholesale sales. The goal of this initiative is a 3 percent increase in general fund tax revenue from city-owned facilities. This would be achieved by working with neighborhood utilities to meet their needs, as well as strengthen working relationships, and by maximizing revenues from excess utility capacity.

“This is aimed particularly at city-owned utilities,” said Steve Marcotte, Tacoma’s finance director.

3. Prioritize programs and services to ensure the delivery of strategic and essential programs and services throughout the community and city. This measure aims to make sure all strategic and essential programs and services are funded.

Budget director Diane Supler said the city is looking to move from being an input-based budget to an information-based-on-service budget.

4. Develop and implement an equal opportunity and recruitment plan that targets for improvement key areas of diversity under-representation. The city is waiting for information from the 2000 Census, Jones said, noting the city must be in compliance with federal laws in this matter, in spite of Initiative 200, which bars the state from considering race as a factor in employment and education.

5. Develop alternative and additional funding sources to ensure the delivery of the highest priority services currently funded by federal grants.

6. Enhance citizen participation in government processes and decision making.

“It’s all about citizens being able to navigate,” said Councilmember Julie Anderson in response to efforts at making city government easier to access.

7. Continue to enhance the use of technology to provide citizen/customer access to city services. The city is looking to increase by 10 percent a year customers who use such technology.

“But I think we can make our Web presence more user-friendly,” said Councilmember Kevin Phelps, referring to the city’s Website.

8. Decrease government red tape, regulatory practices and expenses. “We have several strategies in mind,” Marcotte reported, with a goal of reducing by 10 percent in the next biennium such regulatory and reporting requirements.

They include rewriting the city’s tax and license code, streamlining the grant application process and increasing Tacoma’s bid limit to the level permitted by state law ($200,000).

9. Institute a system that prioritizes services, manages the performance of the city and measure the results.

10. Develop and implement a comprehensive maintenance plan for city facilities that progressively reduce deferred maintenance.

City Council approves bond sale for convention center

It was a case of study session interrupted Tuesday, as the City Council convened a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. to pass a resolution selling $51.9 million in limited tax general obligation bonds to First Albany Capital Inc. to finance the land and construction costs of the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center.

The unusual time of the brief meeting was necessary to coincide with the financial markets in New York. Approval during the council’s regularly scheduled evening meeting would have held up the sale until today, explained finance director Steve Marcotte. By holding the earlier meeting, the winning bidder locked in the day’s slightly lower interest rate, he said.

“The markets are fluid,” Marcotte noted. Mayor Bill Baarsma agreed, saying, “Timing is everything.”

The Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center, which is currently under construction, is located in the city’s downtown on Commerce Street between South 15th and 17th streets. It is scheduled to open later this year.