Tacoma City Council approves $399M biennial budget

By a vote of 8 to 1, Tacoma City Council approved the 2011-2012 biennial budget during its meeting Tuesday at...

By a vote of 8 to 1, Tacoma City Council approved the 2011-2012 biennial budget during its meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

The $2.7 billion city-wide budget directs $398.6 million to the city’s general fund for basic services such as fire, police, libraries and residential street repairs by eliminating 79 vacant positions (saving $13 million), leaving 54 vacant positions unfilled (saving $10.8 million), and relying on union workers to agree to wage freezes over the next two years (saving $17.7 million).

Looking at the broader city budget, city council approved a $1.1 billion biennial budget for Tacoma Public Utilities, which slashed the previous biennial budget by $109 million. The utilities budget cuts 84 positions and relies on increased revenues from water- and power-rate increases ranging from 5 percent to 5.7 percent per year. The rate increases still need to be approved by city council.

The general fund budget approved Tuesday is approximately $43 million less than the 2009-2010 biennial budget.

Deputy Mayor Jake Fey voted against the budget over uncertainties related to expected revenues during this economic recession. “I do not believe that we have fully covered the expected expenditures with the required revenues,” said Deputy Mayor Fey. He pointed to a $6.6 million shortfall discrepancy between the city manager’s positive forecast and Tacoma Public Utilities’ less positive forecast for revenues. “I hope that I am wrong and that we will get the revenues to justify the expenditures. I think that’s where we ought to be passing the budget, where we think that’s likely to occur. I don’t believe that’s likely to occur. So in good conscience, I can’t support the budget.”

But Councilmember Joe Lonergan joined a majority of councilmembers supporting the budget. He called the $6 million discrepancy between the city manager and Tacoma Public Utilities “a difference of opinion.”

“I’m comfortable with this budget,” said Councilmember Lonergan. “Is it going to be perfect? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a perfect budget of this magnitude. I think we’ll have to make some adjustments. I’m hopeful those adjustments are that the economy turns around faster than we expect it to. But that’s cautious optimism on my part. But I do believe that we will manage the numbers as the numbers become more and more clear over the next 24 months, and I think we’ll do a good job of that.”

For more information about the biennial budget, click on the following link — http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?nid=992 .

Before voting on the budget, councilmembers offered their comments. Here is what they had to say.

DEPUTY MAYOR JAKE FEY — This is one of those 51 percent to 49 percent decisions for me, and I’m going to have to vote no on the budget. And the reason I’m voting no on the budget is I do not believe that we have fully covered the expected expenditures with the required revenues. Like I said in earlier comments, we had identified a $6 million hole. We only made cuts of $700,000. I’m very concerned about passing the budget in that regard. I certainly will respect my councilmembers for having different feelings about it. But I believe that we should have closed the gap not by making changes to the assumptions of what our health care costs are going to be, not making only a $700,000 change in cuts. When I brought up the issue a couple of weeks ago, I thought when I was saying cuts, I meant cuts, not new assumptions. And I hope that I am wrong and that we will get the revenues to justify the expenditures. I think that’s where we ought to be passing the budget where we think that’s likely to occur. I don’t believe that’s likely to occur. So in good conscience, I can’t support the budget.

COUNCILMEMBER JOE LONERGAN — I think that $6 million difference of opinion between utilities and the city is just that. And we did some to address that. The deputy mayor says assumptions, and some of that’s true. But some of it was cuts and some of it were revenues that were misprojected because we didn’t have all the information when we started the process. We got better information later in the process, specifically from Puget Sound Energy on their rates. So I’m comfortable with this budget. Is it going to be perfect? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a perfect budget of this magnitude. I think we’ll have to make some adjustments. I’m hopeful those adjustments are that the economy turns around faster than we expect it to. But that’s cautious optimism on my part. But I do believe that we will manage the numbers as the numbers become more and more clear over the next 24 months, and I think we’ll do a good job of that. And I’m confident in our abilities to do that both with our city manager and as a council setting those priorities. So I will certainly support this, and historically looking at the numbers between the city and Tacoma Public Utilities, there’s always been a difference of opinion. And sometimes the city’s closer and sometimes utility’s closer. So it’s one of those things where we decided to split the difference, and I’m comfortable with the way we did that.

MAYOR MARILYN STRICKLAND — I think we’ve had 12 budget workshops. As an elected official, I think I’ve spent more time on this budget than any other council budget, which is a good thing. We needed to be thorough. I absolutely understand the deputy mayor’s concerns about the $6 million gap that we’ve pared down to $3.6 million. We had no dollar amount attached, so I didn’t know if that was $500,000 or another $3 million. I’m ready to support this. We’ve been very thorough. We’ve looked under every rock and the city manager will continue to do his job that he’s being evaluated on, which is to always deliver a balanced budget every single day, and every single quarter, of the year. So I am going to support this.

COUNCILMEMBER RYAN MELLO — It’s the thing we’ve spent the most time on all year. Every single department is being asked to continue to do more with less. We hear that all the time. It’s not just rhetoric. We have very, very hard-working city employees that are really trying to do the people’s business as best they can without any — this budget has no pay increases, no step increases budgeted for our city employees. And it’s an incredibly conservative — so we’re asking our employees to really step in there with us and swallow hard and really help us manage in really tough economic times. We don’t have the revenues that we wish that we had. I’m grateful that at least our non-cost employees are willing to take that step and look forward to the city manager’s discussions with labor, with cost employees. But I really hope our employees understand the tough situation that we are facing and that we had a lot of hard work to do. This runs absolutely everything. That’s why it took 12 budget workshops to think about how we deliver clean drinking water to citizens and how we keep the lights on and people as safe as people expect. I think it’s been a really thorough examination. I think what the city manager has heard through many discussions — at least what I heard and what I hope he has heard — is if through quarterly adjustments, if our revenues aren’t coming in as expected, I hope what the city manager heard was that this council would like to be brought back options and professional recommendations, alternatives for getting back into balance and letting the policy makers make the appropriate policy choices to bring this back into balance. We’re able to actually increase the amount of revenues that we put into paving residential streets. We had a thorough conversation about that by our Public Works department, and I applaud the Public Works director and city manager for finding a way to add a few more dollars to residential streets that we can address the residential road issue a little more thoroughly, even in really tough times. Another small change, yet I think important for the long term, is our ability to move the urban forestry program out of the general fund and into the surface water utility. It’s an acknowledgement that urban forests are really important to our quality of life and our health, and they soak up storm water, so it makes sense to do that.

COUNCILMEMBER MARTY CAMPBELL — If we didn’t have angst going through the budget, we wouldn’t be paying close enough attention. Twelve budget hearings. I’ve learned a lot about just municipal budgeting. A lot different than small business budgeting. But in the same vein, also still kind of the same. And being able to really look deeply at some of the issues. This last week, I had the chance to talk with several other jurisdictions around the state and around the nation about their budgets. Quite frankly, we’re in pretty good shape. I’m happy that our tough decisions were around some of the edges, when we’re not cutting fire, not cutting police, and being able to keep that level of service and keep those officers out on our streets. That’s really important. And I think that we’re able to go forward with that, that we’re able to look at this and cut $43 million and still come up with tax cuts for our small businesses. I talk with people from other jurisdictions and tell them that and their jaw just drops. They can’t believe that we’re being as well run as we are. I’ll be right there with Deputy Mayor Fey in close examination of the quarterly reports. I think the first one, we better leave a lot of time on that agenda. But I can definitely support this budget.

COUNCILMEMBER VICTORIA WOODARDS — It’s been said in many different ways, and I’ll just say it in another. I think the greatest thing we do as a council is spend the time on this budget, because it really drives the priorities of what happens in our city. Much like Councilmember Campbell, as much as I sat in budget sessions for a while, I certainly learned a whole lot sitting in these budget sessions. I want to say a couple of things. One, I want to thank the city manager and staff for throughout this entire process really sticking to our guiding principles from the very beginning, which was to try not to lay off anybody and to try not cut services. So as councilmember talked about, we really stayed around the fringes. I appreciate the City Manager took those directives seriously and really worked within that framework. I, too, like Councilmember Mello, appreciate staff digging in with us and staying with us and realizing and recognizing that this really is a very difficult time. And if we could give everybody raises and do all of the things we’d like to do, we would. But it really is about keeping city government afloat and making sure we’re providing the basic services that citizens elected us for and depend on us to do. I, too, have concerns about the revenue numbers and hope that — and not only hope, but know that — as we go through every quarterly review, that will be very serious and very diligent in making sure those numbers are where they’re supposed to be. And if not, not waiting until the next quarter to adjust them but finding ways to adjust them right then and there so we don’t end up in a bigger hole at the end of the year. I’m going to remain optimistic, deputy mayor, and hope that while we took a conservative approach by meeting halfway, with that $6 million deficit, that the economy will be kind enough to meet us the other half of the way, and we’ll meet in the middle and we’ll be fine. I am proud to be supporting the budget resolution tonight, because we’ve put a lot of work into it. It wasn’t willy-nilly. It wasn’t just, we looked at it and we said OK. We really dug in and worked hard and I’m glad we came out with this outcome, and I look forward to saying yes when the motion is asked to be passed.

COUNCILMEMBER SPIRO MANTHOU — This has been my fourth budget, and thank God my last one. This one’s been a huge challenge, I think it comes without anybody’s doubt that this has been our biggest challenge. But the key is the challenge we face moving forward and how we live within the budget, how we adopt that budget, how we adjust to that budget. Budgets are just projections and hopes and crystal balls and everything else, and the challenge is going to be how well we manage to that budget. You know, I think staff needs to be thanked more than anything for stepping to the plate, and we’re not over this yet. And they’ve already stepped to the plate probably more than anybody would expect them to. But there’s more to come. You know, Bob Biles and his staff have given us some fantastic responses and all the responses and questions from the city manager. But I think most of all, I’m really proud of you guys up here for sticking with this. We’re a fairly new council. Except for the old guy here, we’re fairly new. It’s amazing how this group came together and we’re still talking and we’re still good friends. I know there were numerous times that we could have just chucked it. The challenge is going to be moving forward. But I got confidence that we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it as a city. We’ll do it as a whole, not individually.

MAYOR MARILYN STRICKLAND — I want to echo your comments about this council working together. One of the things I like best about this council is we can disagree with passion, but at the end of the day, we come together and we understand that our job is to move the city forward. So I really appreciate everyone’s efforts and opinions in this.

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