Surplus, bridge costs highlight early City budget discussion

By Todd Matthews, Editor

An $18 million surplus in the City of Tacoma’s mid-biennium general fund budget is expected to help pay for overtime costs incurred for fire and emergency services, new positions within City Hall, and expenses related to the Murray Morgan Bridge closure, according to a presentation Tuesday by City manager Eric Anderson.

According to Anderson, a spike in business and utility taxes, combined with revenue from permits and licenses, have resulted in an anticipated surplus. Similarly, most department spending at City Hall is under-budget.

The City incurred approximately $2.9 million in Tacoma Police overtime expenses related to the investigation of the abduction and murder of Zina Linnik, and anti-war protests at the Port of Tacoma earlier this year.

The budget recommendation also earmarks $155,000 for two new positions within the city manager’s office. A management intern would provide part-time assistance to councilmembers, and attend neighborhood council meeting and city council committee meetings. A management analyst would serve in a capacity similar to the assistant city manager and public works director, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

Costs associated with the State’s decision to close the state-owned Murray Morgan Bridge Oct. 23 were also discussed. The city has placed an additional fire engine at Station 2, located at 2701 Tacoma Ave. So., at the cost of $125,000 per month. The engine will provide reasonable coverage to the tide flats, and timely back-up access to downtown and Northeast Tacoma. Similarly, TPD has increased its level of police coverage in the Northeast Tacoma and tide flats areas by providing overtime to six officers to patrol the area in shifts over the next 15 months. The cost is approximately $742,000. It is also spending $305,000 on a study to determine whether the bridge can be saved.

On Tuesday, Anderson and several councilmembers rebuffed the state’s latest offer of paying for these costs through $25 million set aside to replace or repair the existing bridge. The city says the state neglected the bridge over the years, which led to its closure due to public safety.

The City will hold a budget workshop Nov. 26. City Council is expected to hear a first reading of an ordinance to modify the budget Dec. 4. A final vote is scheduled Dec. 11.