Ladenburg presents budget to County Council

Executive John W. Ladenburg submitted a 2003 budget proposal to the Pierce County Council Tuesday that gives priority to public safety and the building development permitting process in the face of a severe budget shortfall caused in part by the impacts of Initiative 747.

In order to increase staffing by nine in the Sheriff’s Department, Ladenburg was forced to make staffing reductions in non public safety departments. Fee increases will pay for seven new development engineering positions in Planning and Land Services.

Ladenburg’s proposal for all budgets is $737,147,567, which is a $51.5 million reduction from this year’s budget total. The County Council will hold budget hearings between now and Nov. 21 when final consideration of the budget is scheduled. Most of the council’s attention will focus on the $222.6 million general-fund budget, which includes the majority of traditional county services. That budget is 0.6 percent higher than 2002 and reflects the impacts of I-747, which limits property tax increases to 1 percent.

“This is the second budget year which has been impacted by the crippling effects of I-747,” Ladenburg said. “This has caused great difficulty for our government and for most governmental entities in the State of Washington. The combined effects of I-747, the weak economy and state funding cutbacks have created a severe budget crunch for Pierce County.”

However, Ladenburg said Pierce County will be “fairly stable” in 2003 and credits planning and foresight for that. In 2001, department directors brought spending under budget at the executive’s request. In 2002, he cut 41 positions.

“We decided to downsize immediately and not wait until things got worse. The result has been a better year for the county than other jurisdictions and a more stable future,” Ladenburg said.

The executive’s primary budgetary goal is achieving an appropriate balance between the need to adequately fund public safety and justice system programs while at the same time avoiding severe impacts to the other services provided by the county. Existing challenges involving criminal activity, domestic violence, meth labs and other illegal drug activity will continue to place great pressure on public safety and justice services.

The proposed budget shows a net loss of 13 positions. The addition of 23 positions is more than offset by the loss of 36 positions. The Ladenburg administration’s budget emphasis resulted in 96 percent of next year’s budget increase being allocated for public safety. Three of every four dollars in the general fund are directed to public safety and justice services.

“This budget reflects the fiscal realities confronting county government, the impact of a sluggish economy, and the need to make priority decisions in order to protect and augment our most vital services,” Ladenburg told the council. “Even with our fiscal limitations, my administration remains committed to effectively addressing the challenges and opportunities before us…It is our responsibility to exhibit leadership in addressing these issues and to provide cost-effective public services to our citizens.”

The nine staff additions in the Sheriff’s department include six deputies, two for the Peninsula, two for South Hill and two for the community support team. Two sergeant positions and a detective for the sexual offender registration program also are provided.

In other departments, Juvenile Court receives two detention officers and an accounting assistant; Parks and Recreation picks up an office assistant at Sprinker Recreation Center; Information Services adds an information technology specialist to work with the Sheriff’s Department; and Public Work’s road design team increases by two members to keep capital projects on schedule.

In his budget presentation, Ladenburg said the county fiscal picture looks even more dismal for 2004. Uncertainty in the local and state economies will place great pressure on county revenues.

“It is likely that fiscal 2004, without a major new revenue source provided by the State Legislature, will be worse than fiscal 2003,” he said.

The impact of Initiative 747 becomes progressively worse. “The negative impact grows geometrically each year. It is eroding our real financial base,” Ladenburg said.

These additional negative fiscal factors were cited:
– The state’s massive budget problems will likely result in reduced grants and allocations to local government;
– Pension rates determined by the state are proposed to increase in mid-2003 due to the dramatic declines in stock market valuations;

– The opening of an additional cluster in the new jail will add significant expenses;

– The Consumer Price Index likely will be higher in 2004, producing pressure for higher wage increases than the modest increases proposed for 2003.