New year brings service cuts as budget implemented

It’s not a happy new year for the City of Tacoma with respect to some fiscal realities.

Some citizen services provided by Tacoma in the past will end completely or decrease beginning Jan. 1 as Tacoma implements the 2003-2004 budget.

Declining revenues from tax-limiting initiatives and the lackluster economy contributed to the service cuts, which include:

– Turning off 2,300 streetlights;

– Discontinuing abandoned auto tagging and pickup on streets, parking strips and other City rights-of-way;

– Stopping landscape maintenance at 31 locations;

– Eliminating some and reducing other assistance for landlord tenant questions and disputes;

– Transferring senior citizen information and assistance to Pierce County;

– Discontinuing transportation for seniors to and from the Point Defiance Ruston Senior Center;and

– Stopping delivery of meals for homebound seniors from the Point Defiance Ruston Senior Center.

Many more service reductions will be less visible to citizens or take place later in the two-year budget cycle.

For more information on the service cuts, including specific lists of areas affected and alternative service options, citizens can visit the city’s Web site:

Or call the new service cuts hotline at 253/502-CALL.

The city faced a significant financial problem while developing the 2003-2004 budget. Decreased revenues meant the Tacoma would come up $19 million short trying to provide the same level of services that the community received in 2002.

The city sought to minimize the impact of the service cuts on citizens by:

– Surveying citizens on their budget priorities, which included public safety and streets. The budget reflects those priorities by reducing Police, Fire and Public Works at a smaller percentage than other departments.

– Asking department directors to propose cuts that minimized the impact on citizens.

To offset deeper service cuts to core services, the City Council increased several fees and taxes, including the following fees/taxes, along with the additional revenue (two years):

– Implementing an alarm licensing and false alarm fees, $1.8 million;

– Re-establishing a cabaret/admissions tax for establishments that perform cabaret activities (such as music and dancing) using Class B or Class C cabaret licenses, $200,000;

– Maintaining the existing business and occupation tax on service-related businesses, $900,000;

– Increasing construction-related permit fees, $795,000;

– Receiving a Tacoma Power contribution to streetlighting costs, $500,000; and

– Increasing the emergency medical service transport base fee to $695 (Emergency Medical Services Fund), $2.2 million.

“Unfortunately, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” said City Manager Ray Corpuz. “Budget estimates show that cities and counties statewide will face even tighter budgets in the coming years – meaning even more cuts – despite an economic recovery. Limitations on property tax, for instance, don’t keep pace with inflation. However, we will continue to re-evaluate our financial condition and make adjustments as necessary.”