Tacoma budget cuts would impact police, fire services

Interim Tacoma City Manager Rey Arellano Tuesday laid out a budget proposal that aims to close $23 million of a projected $31 million general fund budget deficit through next year by eliminating 167 positions from city government.

The cuts include eliminating 56 positions from the police department (including 52 police patrol officers and four support staff), 44 positions from the fire department, 15 positions from the public works department (including three building inspectors), two positions from the human rights and human services department (including the elimination of one senior center which serves approximately 500 seniors per month), 5.4 positions from the community and economic development department (including the elimination of two positions from the neighborhood business district program, and the elimination of the neighborhood council’s program manager), five positions from the permitting department, 6.8 positions from the municipal court, four positions from the public assembly facilities department, two positions from the city manager’s office (including the elimination of the position of internal auditor),  12 positions from the finance department, 3.5 positions from the human resources department, six positions from the information technology department, and five positions from the legal department.

The total number of positions that would be eliminated is 262, but 95 cuts would be achieved by eliminating vacancies and re-allocating the funding for positions away from the general fund and toward another source of revenue. In total, 130 employees represented by unions would be laid off, and 37 non-represented employees would be laid off.

“I wish I could tell you we didn’t have to lay off anyone as part of this proposal,” Arellano told Tacoma City Councilmembers during today’s noon budget workshop. “However, given the magnitude, it just wasn’t possible.

“We know public safety is a key priority but it’s impossible to address this gap without their participation,” added Arellano.

Under the proposal presented today, non-union employees would take a number of steps to save $877,000, including a mandatory one-day-per-month furlough day without pay, and department directors would take a five-percent pay decrease and one-day-per-month furlough day, resulting in combined savings of $730,000; and no “step” wage increases, resulting in $147,000 in savings. The city would also reduce costs related to maintenance and operations, preserve the council’s contingency fund for emergency needs, avoid use of reserves to balance the budget, avoid new initiatives, and report revenues monthly.

The city is also considering boosting its revenue next year through an increase in car tab fees ($1.25 million), raising the average fine for speeding and red light camera infractions from $101 to $124 ($419,500), eliminating admissions tax deductions for non-profits — B&O ($300,000), increasing annual business license fees from $80 to $90 ($220,000), establishing half-price annual business fee for businesses with gross revenue less than $10,000 ($200,000), and increasing false alarm fees from $60 to $100 ($156,000).

Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell painted a stark picture of his department to councilmembers. He reported the department would go from 398 commissioned police officers to 323. He also added that the program placing police officers in high schools would be eliminated, bike patrol officers that support BIA officers in downtown Tacoma would be returned to their patrol cars, the gang unit would be eliminated, police sub-stations would not be staffed to the level they are now, and the supervisory position in charge of the volunteer corps would be eliminated. “We’re looking at a whole re-structuring of our organization, moving from a shift-based to a sector-based orientation,” said Ramsdell. He added that one assistant chief position, one captain position, four lieutenants positions, and six sergeant positions would be eliminated from the department. The proposal also reduces the number of community liaison officers from 16 to 3.

“With community liaison officers, with traffic units, and with the other units such as the gang unit, they help reduce calls for service because they are pro-active,” added Ramsdell. “There are a lot of calls for service that are diverted because they take care of it due to the pro-activeness of that work. Obviously, with the reductions or elimination in those areas, we will see increased calls for service.

“We’ll have less officers on the street, less visible police presence in our community,” he added.

Tacoma Fire Chief Ron Stephens told councilmembers proposed budget cuts would reduce his department’s capacity by 25 percent and lead to four engine company closures: engine four at 11th Street and Cushman Avenue; engine six at 11th Street and East F Street; engine 13 at North 25th Street and Proctor Avenue; and engine 11 at 38th Street and McKinley Avenue. It would also mean two stations would close: station six and station 13. In his memo to City Council, Stephens noted that “for every 12 firefighter positions cut, one fire engine company will be eliminated. These proposed actions will severely impact our response capacity and lead to higher mortality rates, increased fire damage, and negative environmental impacts.” He also noted his department would conduct fewer fire and life safety inspections, fire investigations, and code compliance inspections.

City Council will hold a public hearing this evening to receive comments on the budget proposal.

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Tacoma City Council to discuss layoffs, budget deficit today – http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2080902&more=0

Public meetings Tuesday tackle Tacoma’s budget – http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2079650&more=0

Tacoma City Council resumes budget discussion Nov. 1 – http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2060641&more=0

Tacoma’s Money Crunch: City Hall perspectives on Tacoma’s $26M budget gap —http://tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2058879&more=0

Tacoma faces $26M budget gap – http://www.tacomadailyindex.com/portals-code/list.cgi?paper=88&cat=23&id=2058379&more=0