Pierce County Council Committee will discuss proposed historic preservation funding cuts

The Pierce County Council Committee of the Whole is scheduled March 10 to discuss a budget amendment that could significantly reduce the amount of money set aside for historic preservation.

At issue is a budget shortfall that county officials say could reach $12 million. The county is looking across all departments to make reductions in order to close the deficit.

On Jan. 23, the county’s director of budget and finance, Patrick Kenney, sent a letter to elected officials and department directors outlining Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy’s proposal for bridging what was then a projected $8 million shortfall in the county’s current budget. It’s a four-page letter of recommendations available here — http://www.wahmee.com/docs/pcbudget_letter.pdf .

That shortfall has since been projected to reach $10 to $12 million.

Similarly, in a memo to employees Jan. 23, McCarthy reported that revenue from sales tax, new construction, and interest on investments has declined, and Pierce County experienced negative general fund growth last year. “A budget crisis is not the way I wanted to begin my new administration,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, that is the reality.”

Two recommendations have concerned some local historic preservation advocates.
One calls for eliminating $225,000 from the county’s historical documents program, most importantly a county-wide historic resource inventory. “Some inventories have not been updated in over 30 years,” said Historic Tacoma Board President Sharon Winters in a statement last month. “Historic Tacoma believes that inventory work is vital. If we don’t know what we’ve got, it is difficult to preserve it.”

Another recommendation calls for eliminating $261,600 from the Planning and Land Services (PALS) department “to be determined by the department.” The latter is relevant because the county’s historic preservation office is a division of PALS. A fear exists that the office could be a target of some of those reductions.

Over the past four years, money has been set aside for countywide preservation. In 2007, the county discovered a pool of money slated to be used for historic preservation. The money had accrued as a result of state legislation enacted in 2005. The legislation directed $1 of a $5 filing fee toward “historic preservation and historical programming, which may include document preservation.”

Between 2005 and 2008 the revenue from the surcharge reached just over $1 million, according to county officials.

In November 2007, Pierce County Council approved an ordinance directing $366,000 for a historic property survey, $60,000 for a historic document survey, $200,000 for a grant program, $37,000 to turn the half-time historic preservation officer into a full-time position, and $37,000 for a part-time grant writer.

However, the county has only spent money on some of those directives.

According to Kenney, budget manager Aaron BeMiller, and legislative budget analyst Paul Bocchi, who all provided financial information for a summary prepared by Historic Tacoma in January (that document is available at http://www.wahmee.com/docs/pcfunding_summary.pdf ), $173,529 was expended in 2006 for “internal purposes”; $65,524 was expended in 2008 for a grant program and funding for the part-time preservation officer; this year, $100,000 has been allocated for document preservation purposes, and $108,000 for historical document microfilming, records retention and management, and other state archivist related expenditures department-wide. Subtracting those expenditures — roughly $446,000 — from the $1 million pool would leave approximately $554,000 for historic preservation, historical programming, and document preservation.

To its credit, the county did award approximately $195,000 in grants to more than a dozen local preservation groups for various projects last year. The money will be paid out to the organizations on a reimbursement basis.

Putting preservation money on the chopping block during current budget amendment deliberations could kill that momentum.

Pierce County Council’s Committee of the Whole will discuss budget amendment 2009-16, which includes the proposed $225,000 cut to the county’s historic preservation program/special fund, Tues., March 10, at 9:30am in room 1045 of the County City Building, 930 Tacoma Ave. So.

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For earlier Index coverage of Pierce County’s historic preservation program, click here http://www.wahmee.com/tdi_pierce_county_preservation.pdf .

The Index has a blog. Visit us online at http://i.feedtacoma.com/TDI-Reporters-Notebook/ .