Unresolved budget issues to be addressed in 2003

Adoption of Pierce County’s 2003 general fund budget Nov. 26 didn’t close the books on the subject. Executive John W. Ladenburg says it will need to be amended during the coming year because of unresolved budget issues.

The budget is amended when supplemental budget requests submitted by the executive are approved by the council.

Issues expected to be addressed during 2003:
– Medical Insurance Premiums – Preliminary rate quotes are well in excess of the amount budgeted (7 percent increase) and what providers are asking for. “We are in the process of reviewing alternatives which we hope will maintain a solid medical plan at affordable rates,” Ladenburg said.

– Union Negotiations – Many of the union contracts for next year remain unsettled, and any eventual wage settlements beyond the budgeted levels may require further budget adjustments.

– Office Space/Courtrooms – The county is renting more than 150,000 square feet of office space. Additional judicial space is needed in the County-City Building. Both issues need to be addressed in the near future.

– Initiatives – I-747 (1 percent property tax limitation) and potentially I-776 (vehicle license fees) will continue to have a major and growing negative impact upon county finances.

– State Budget Problems – The massive state budget problems will likely result in further reductions in state grants and allocations once the new state biennium that begins in July.

– Pension Rates – Pension rate increases have been proposed for next year (July 1, 2003), and these proposed increases are not included in the 2003 budget.

“Pat Kenney and the other department directors saw our financial situation developing a couple of years ago. We took steps right away to operate with less revenue. That meant instituting a series of smaller reductions so there wouldn’t be a sudden budget crisis like a lot of other government organizations are experiencing,” Ladenburg said.

The 2003 budget proposal presented by the executive on Oct. 22 totals $778 million and includes the $223 million general fund budget. Chair Harold Moss was joined by Councilmembers Calvin Goings, Wendell Brown and Pat O’Malley in adopting the budget. Voting against it were Jan Shabro, Kevin Wimsett and Karen Biskey.

Councilmember Wendell Brown, who has served as budget chair several times during his council career, commended Moss for leading a “very smooth budget process for what we were facing this year . . . The budget process was very difficult because of the shortening of the revenue again. I know it will be even worse next year. I don’t envy anybody who has to go through this process. I know a lot of cuts have to be made and there is a lot of pain involved in budgets like this.”

The budget process was the last for Biskey, Brown, O’Malley and Shabro. Each leaves the council at year’s end.