It's been nearly two months since the City of Tacoma noticed a massive hole in its biennial budget. In that time, City Council has directed staff to trim about $11M from non-public health & safety departments; passed new taxes, fees & fines totaling $1M; proposed another $11M in cuts to police and fire, pending further financial review; and is considering several million dollars more in additional taxes. However, these do not total the $31M projected hole.
While the Council continues to discuss impacts of potential cuts, there is little discussion on how to make the City a more efficient organization - something many businesses have gone through during the current economic crisis. Instead, the City's drawdown of a $47M reserve fund over three years helped them avoid cuts. As the Tacoma Weekly noted:
"'Rather than make the early cuts, the city used its reserves and didn't address the underlining losses in revenue. Using the reserves saved jobs then but compounded the deficit spending that not only led to the current budget gap, but also put the city in tougher financial shape for the years to come,' [Steve Marcotte, former Tacoma Finance Director] said. What should have happened was that Tacoma should have made small cuts in 2008 and 2009 at levels tied to the dropping tax incomes and revenues rather than continue to operate beyond its means."
Once the City has refined its expenses to refocus on its core mission, there may need to be additional revenue sources - however, this should only come after an honest evaluation of how to make the City more efficient. As discussed here, the Chamber has encouraged the Council to focus on sources of revenue that do not unfairly target one business or business sector.
The News Tribune recently featured an article in which ordinary citizens were developing ideas on how to save public health and safety jobs. These ideas ranged from "a thrift store mentality" focused on second hand office furniture and supplies to a $25 per person tax to avoid all cuts to the Tacoma Police Department. These across the board changes are welcomed to distribute the impacts throughout the community while helping the City become leaner.
As the Council moves towards a balanced budget, we encourage Chamber members to let their elected representatives know what services are important to them.