Tacoma Rail seeks $6.2M to balance budget

Tacoma City Hall isn’t the only local municipality struggling to balance its budget.

Tacoma Rail is expected to ask for an additional $6.2 million from its operating fund to balance its budget by the end of this fiscal year. In an interesting twist, however, the need for more money isn’t due to a drop in activity or the economic downturn. Instead, Tacoma Rail officials say it’s the cost of doing business at a time when business is booming.

“We are requesting additional appropriations . . . to meet the anticipated operating requirements through year-end due to the increased volumes at the Port of Tacoma and other business opportunities,” wrote Jim Sant, Deputy Director for Administration at Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU), in a Sept. 28 memo to TPU Director and CEO William A. Gaines.

According to Sant, Tacoma Rail saw an increase in intermodal traffic in July and August as a result of the opening of the Grand Alliance, a consortium of shippers that includes Hapag-Lloyd, Orient Overseas Container Line, NYK Line, and ZIM Integrated Shipping that began operating on July 2 at the Port of Tacoma’s Washington United Terminal. The result? A spike in expenses related to personnel, fuel, and operating supplies put Tacoma Rail 29 per cent over budget. Similarly, commercial freight rail volumes are on pace to exceed the biennium budget by 17 per cent, according to Sant. In August, Port officials reported a 20 percent increase in container volume activity compared to the same month last year. Last month, Port officials reported a 14.5 per cent year to date gain in international container volumes.

Sant also pointed to Tacoma Rail’s increased involvement with construction at Union Pacific’s service facility and a track expansion project at Targa Sound Refining as other reasons for the budget adjustment.

“The additional anticipated expenditures are expected to be compensated for with additional revenues related to increased rail activities,” added Sant.

TPU’s Board of Directors reviewed the issue during its meeting Oct. 10. Tacoma City Council’s government performance and finance committee is scheduled to discuss the issue during its meeting on Weds., Oct. 17 at 4:30 p.m. at the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street, Conference Room 248. The ordinance amending Tacoma Rail’s budget is tentatively scheduled to be presented before the full city council for its first reading on Tues., Oct. 23 at 5 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the first floor of the Tacoma Municipal Building, located 747 Market Street (UPDATE: The ordinance is officially on the agenda). Council meetings are streamed live online at tvtacoma.com and broadcast live on TV Tacoma.