Tacoma residents pack council chambers to voice budget concerns

A record number of Tacoma residents crowded into the municipal building on Tuesday night to voice concerns over the city’s 2005-2006 biennial budget.

The event was one in a series of meetings designed to solicit feedback on plans to tackle a budget deficit of $29.5 million. The budget proposal calls for a cutback of services ranging from Tacoma Police Department’s community liaison officers to the closure of Tacoma Fire Department’s Engine No. 13 to eliminating or reducing a number of human service programs designed to assist senior citizens.

Combining public comment on the budget with the council’s regular agenda was an attempt to tackle two issues at once. But many Tacoma residents grew restless while the council first addressed regularly planned business – specifically, an ordinance that would permit construction of a 180-foot building along the Thea Foss waterway. Debate over the issue lasted for two hours, as residents of the Perkins Building argued that such a project would block their views of Commencement Bay and reduce the value of their condominiums. “This is devastating to me,” said Tom Davenport, who purchased a condominium in the building last month. “I bought this condominium in good faith. This is not fair.”

Proponents argued that the project would spur economic development downtown. “Good public policy is not made from one perspective,” Bill Lynn, a project supporter, commented. “This project serves the public’s

As testimonials continued, attendees who had signed up to speak on the city’s budget grew restless. “Excuse me, Deputy Mayor,” one person said, standing to address the council. “When are we going to speak about the budget?”

“This is democracy, folks,” Deputy Mayor Bill Evans replied. When the deputy mayor made a motion to start the public hearing, temporarily delaying a hearing on the ordinance, several people in the crowd hollered, ‘Here! Here!’

A majority of the budget concerns focused on human- and emergency-service programs. The city is $29.6 million in debt. The proposed budget aims to reduce this debt in part by eliminating 12 community liaison police officer positions, closing Fire Station 13 – a move that would lay off more than a dozen fire fighters, eliminating $450,000 in funding for various community relations services, and reducing transportation services for seniors.

Herman Diers, Tacoma resident and community organizer at the Hilltop Action Coalition, commented on budget cuts affecting the community liaison officers. “It’s beyond my comprehension why the city would forfeit this valuable resource.”

Irene Fruzzetti the chair and president of the Tacoma Area Center for Individuals (TACID) with Disabilities encouraged council members to avoid making cuts to human services. “We’ve taken cuts in the past,” she said. “None of us want to cut back on human services, and I am confident that you don’t want to either.”

Tacoma resident Michael Curley presented the city council with the signatures of 2,951 residents opposed to the closure of Fire Station No. 13. “I am urging that this fire station remain open,” he said.

The city will hold budget workshops on Nov. 17 and Nov. 20. The events are opened to the public and designed to help city officials finalize the budget year’s end.