Council hears status of Breakthrough Change Initiative

City Manager Jim Walton provided a status report to the City Council and Mayor Bill Baarsma on Tuesday regarding progress of the Breakthrough Change Initiative — a plan designed 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 hopes to save $3 to $5 million annually by creating committees to identify cost-saving opportunities in how the city operates.

The committees include:

Employee Compensation and Benefits – Chaired by Finance Director Steve Marcotte, this committee is focused on 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.

Organizational Restructuring – Chaired by Hearing Examiner Rod Kerslake, this committee is focused on 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 – Chaired by Human Resources Director Woodrow Jones, Jr., this committee is focused on reducing liability costs; and reducing the number of Worker Compensation claims and their average cost.

Vehicles and Equipment – Chaired by Ryan Petty, this committee is focused on 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 City Council approved a resolution that expressed support for the Breakthrough Change Initiative at its meeting on Jan. 4.

“The city needs to make structural changes on the cost side, not the revenue side,” Walton told the mayor and city council at Tuesday’s study session. He said the city has used “every accounting trick” to balance the budget, such as cash carryover and property sales. “We are expected to work some kind of miracle because the needs of the city have not changed. The status quo is not an option. How do we come together and plan ahead to meet an impossible balancing act?”

According to Walton, the city faces a long-term budget problem due to recent restrictions on the growth of traditional revenue sources, along with dramatic growth in costs of doing business. The Breakthrough Change Initiative is designed to make changes to services and programs in order to address anticipated budget problems.

“The key is to try and develop a sustainable budget,” said Mayor Baarsma. “It’s a crisis situation and requires a level of consciousness to acknowledge that the situation is fast approaching and we have not yet established budget sustainability.”

Walton and the committee chairs presented progress reports at Tuesday’s study session. Most committees are in the preliminary stages of identifying goals and approaches to each initiative.

Steve Marcotte indicated that the city’s Human Resources Department was conducting a medical benefits audit to identify cost-saving opportunities. The committee is also considering in-house clinics and wellness programs as possibilities for saving money. The committee has met with outside experts to gain an overview of trends in compensation and medical benefits.

Rod Kerslake reported that the Organizational Restructuring committee planned to approach its task by developing an understanding of the city’s organizational structure and reasons for that structure, determining the roles of the various levels of employee positions within the organization, identifying the span of control within the current organizational structure, identifying services delivered through the existing organizational structure and how they are delivered, identifying benchmarks, best practices, and experiences of other governmental organizations, and developing recommendations based on review and analysis of data collected.

Woodrow Jones told the council that the Risk Management committee identified four potential cost-saving areas: liability claims; workers compensation; property and liability insurance; and safety procedures. One idea, according to Jones, is to build policies that surround best practices in all areas of city government “from utility pole workers to office assistants.”

Committees are expected to report again on their progress at a study session next month.

For more information about the Breakthrough Change initiative, visit