Tuesday, October 30, 2012

City of Tacoma Budget and Healthcare Benefits

The Chamber has previously discussed the ongoing budget process of the City of Tacoma. At a recent Tacoma City Council budget study session on October 16, 2012, Joy St. Germain, the Human Resources Director for Tacoma, presented the proposed 2013/2014 biennial personnel and benefits expenses for the City.

In the proposal, salaries and benefits represent 69 percent of General Fund expenditures and 41 percent of General Government expenditures.

While many people are aware of recent changes to city employees’ pay through the compensation study, less attention has been focused on the benefits package. It seemed a surprise to several attendees what the repercussions of generous benefits could mean. Implementation of the new federal excise tax, also known as the “Cadillac Tax,” in 2018 means that the generous benefits package offered by Tacoma will result in the city paying an additional $12.7 million every year, or $25.4 million every biennial budget, in federal excise taxes.

The “Cadillac Tax” is an annual tax on healthcare plans that exceed $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. The reasoning behind the tax is that these expensive plans often do not require co-pays, deductibles, or caps, which encourage the overuse of medical care and thereby drive up the cost of healthcare. What is more, generous benefits packages are not considered taxable income, allowing beneficiaries to avoid paying taxes on what can become a significant part of a compensation package.

St. Germain justified the high benefit cost as necessary to attract and retain high quality employees. However, what was not discussed was how the cost of these benefits compares to other line items. The proposed B&O tax on non-profit hospitals combined with the $20 car tab fee would only amount to $9.3 million for the 2013/2014 biennial budget, far short of the $25.4 million Tacoma will be required to pay the federal government every biennial budget starting in 2018 if the current benefits package is not modified. 

As the City moves forward with the budget process and future planning, they will have to compare expenditures and revenues more closely in order to justify proposed new sources of revenue and ongoing high costs.

Chamber Supports Recycling Regs

It's important for levels of government to avoid differing regulations when imposing requirements on local businesses.  Such impositions raise the cost and hamper ability of local companies to comply.

The proposed adoption by the City of Tacoma to update their recycling reporting requirements in accordance with state regulations is a business-friendly action that serves the needs of the city and community while minimizing the regulatory burden.

The Chamber supports this change by the City of Tacoma. (Click on image for a larger view)

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tacoma’s Brewery District and Economic Development

On Tuesday, October 23, 2012 the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Northwest presented a report regarding economic development for Tacoma’s Brewery District to the city council’s Economic Development Committee. The report provided recommendations on how to transform the Brewery District into a “high-density, mixed use Urban Center” (ULI Northwest, 2012, p. 4).

The Brewery District is the area south of downtown and is adjacent to the University of Washington, Tacoma (UWT) campus and the Dome District, with easy access to Interstate 705 to the east.

The Brewery District has many historic buildings that make this area unique. Redevelopment of these existing structures would add vibrancy and character to the district and Tacoma. Given the economic nature of Tacoma and the district’s proximity to freeways and the link, the report cited opportunities of converting these structures into artist live/work housing, brewers, distillers, wineries, and culinary uses that would enable items to be made here and shipped to places with more disposable income. Furthermore, spaces could be used for entertainment, regular events, and recreational centers. The report also noted opportunities with UWT and Chihuly Studios.

The City of Tacoma currently “owns approximately nine acres and two buildings in the core of the Brewery District” (ULI Northwest, 2012, p. 6). The report and presentation recommended the city partner with a private developer to help the city form relationships with businesses and entrepreneurs thereby creating a market for this hidden gem within the city.

The Brewery District is blessed with many important and unique qualities that hold a lot of potential. The key to transforming the district, noted Ricardo Noguera, the Director of the City of Tacoma’s Community & Economic Development Department, is to successfully market and promote these extraordinary qualities and those of Tacoma as a whole. Bob Levin, also with Economic Development, noted that there are multiple property developments in the planning state that will likely be announced in the next year.

We at the Chamber look forward to the ongoing growth of the business community.


ULI Northwest. (2012, October). Brewery District Redevelopment Technical Assistance Panel Recommendations. Paper presented at the meeting of Tacoma City Council Economic Development Committee, Tacoma, WA.

City Proposes New Taxes for Tacoma

We’ve talked before about the budget challenges the City of Tacoma faces. The City is working on setting the 2013/2014 biennial budget. The current budget proposal introduces two new taxes to Tacoma: a $20 Vehicle License Fee and a B&O tax on hospitals.

City officials argue that the new taxes are needed because of declines in revenue Tacoma has experienced over the last few years.

The Vehicle License Fee, or car tabs, would impose $20 per year vehicle license fee dedicated to transportation improvement projects, which would amount to $3.8 million in revenue for the 2013/2014 budget. At the budget work session on October 16, 2012, both Deputy Mayor Lonergan and Councilman Mello questioned what specifically the public will receive from this new fee.

Dick McKinley, Director of the Tacoma Public Works Department, said at the following budget work session on October 23, 2012 the car tab fee will go toward road repairs, such as chip and cape seals and patch repairs, which increase the lifetime for roads. However, just how many miles of road repairs the new fees would provide was not specified, as well as what the projected street repair and maintenance budget would be without the proposed new car tab fee.

The second newly proposed tax would be a B&O tax on non-profit hospitals, projected to amount to over $5.5 million in revenue for the 2013/2014 budget.

As a non-profit, the hospitals pay taxes out of their operating margins, the same funding source as their community benefit programs. This means the more hospitals pay in taxes, the less they have to reinvest in the community, such as providing charity care, educational outreach, health research, or other important services. The City provided estimates on how much the new tax would add to its budget, but like the car tabs, not what additional benefits the public would receive from the additional taxes.

For more information on Tacoma’s budget and the ongoing process, such as budget video resources, archived work sessions, and upcoming community meetings, visit the city’s website.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beat the Voters Registration Deadline

Monday, Oct. 29 is the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 6 General Election.
New voters (not currently registered in Washington state) can register in person at the Pierce County Election Center through Oct. 29, 2012.
The Elections Division will be open extended hours this Saturday and Monday for voter registration.
Voters will have two choices: they can drive through and register to vote without leaving their vehicles, or they can come into the customer service center for help with more complex questions.
Special voter registration hours:
·         Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012          8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
·         Monday, Oct. 29, 2012           7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Registration Location: Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th St. , Tacoma, WA 98409
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson encourages prospective voters to act soon, as there could be long lines on Monday.
"We're excited to offer drive-through registration, which will be a first for Pierce County. We are expecting as many as 2,000 voters to register over these two days,” she said. “I hope that citizens who are not currently registered will take advantage of this last chance to participate in a very important election.”
To date, there are approximately 440,000 registered voters in Pierce County. More than 39,000 – or 9 percent – have already submitted their ballots.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

3Q12 Tacoma Council Scorecard Issued

To better represent business interests with government, the Chamber is communicating to our members the voting records of elected and/or appointed officials on issues relevant to our mission.  Following is the third Scorecard of votes by the City of Tacoma Council.

The following scorecard presents actual votes – rather than leadership, testimony, rhetoric or behind-the-scenes work.  Votes selected for inclusion in the voting record are those issues that impact the success of new and existing businesses in our community.

The Chamber recognizes that votes are only one part of the picture of an engaged, business-friendly city, but they do illustrate consistencies or inconsistencies between Chamber membership and civic leaders. The Chamber encourages businesses to get involved with leaders and issues beyond this scorecard.

If you have any questions about the specific votes or seek a greater understanding of the issues, please contact Gary Brackett, garyb@tacomachamber.org or David Schroedel, davids@tacomachamber.org

(Click on image for a larger view)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Two Precincts in 10th C.D. Receive New Ballots

Pierce County is mailing corrected ballots to 1,422 voters in the new 10th Congressional District who received a faulty ballot due to a printing error.
Those voters originally received a misprinted ballot containing candidates for the 6th Congressional District. The printing vendor confirmed the error and indicated it was isolated to two precincts in South Tacoma, Parkland and Spanaway. During the printing, the back plate was not changed, so two precincts were printed with the wrong back.
Pierce County printed more than 504,000 ballots for the Nov. 6 General Election.
Along with the new ballot, the 1,422 voters will receive a letter alerting them to the error and instructing them to return the correct ballot. The Pierce County Elections Division has put in controls to prevent the counting of the incorrect ballot as well as steps to ensure the correct ballot will be tabulated.
How this happened:
  • Pierce County’s General Election ballots are two-sided. There are 521 fronts that contain the same issues (state and county measures and president). The only difference is the precinct number. There are 49 different back styles that are printed on those fronts. Offices that change on the back side of the ballot include congressional districts (four), state legislative districts (eight), County Council districts and other local ballot measures.
  • The printer is responsible for printing the right front with the correct back.
  • When Pierce County receives the ballots from the printer, the quantity of each ballot style is checked. Workers also check to make sure the ballots are printed correctly, but that process failed for these two precincts.
  • After this problem was brought to our attention, we immediately re-checked each ballot type to ensure it was printed correctly.
Voters still have plenty of time to vote for their 10th Congressional District choice and have their vote counted.
Voters with questions can contact the Elections Division at 253-798-VOTE (8683).

City Reorganization Adopts Chamber Recommendation

As Tacoma continues to grapple with scoping its budget to balance both demanded services and available revenue, the Chamber advocates for common sense approaches to improved management.

The Chamber made an earlier recommendation to reorganize city departments so that ratepayers of storm and sanitary water as well as solid waste were removed from inappropriate cuts.  These ratepayers fully fund their utility services and their spending does not impact the general fund.

The City Council was following through on the implementing reorganization as forwarded by City Manager T.C. Broadnax.  The Chamber recognized that organizational improvement and commended its adoption by the City Council.

(Click on Image for a Larger View)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chamber Issues Business Voters Guide

Review the issues!  Compare the candidates! Vote your preferences!  Here is your 2nd Voice for Business voters' guide with the Chamber's recommendations of business-related state and local ballot issues as well as statements from federal, state and local candidates.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tacoma Budget Meetings Resume

This past summer, community members took the time and effort to provide input to the City Council and City Manager about the proposed 2013-2014 Budget for the City of Tacoma.
Through a variety of methods: community meetings, questionnaires, surveys and letters and emails, people and organizations - including the Tacoma-Pierce Co. Chamber -  shared their thoughts about the priorities of City services. On October 2, T.C. Broadnax, City Manager, shared a proposed budget with the City Council. You can view and/or download the proposed budget following this link: http://www.cityoftacoma.org/
Here are the dates the City Council and City Manager will conduct a second round of community meetings in October and November: 
  • Monday, Oct. 22, 6-8pm, Gray Middle School, 6229 S. Tyler St. Commons
  • Wednesday, Oct. 24, 6-8pm, Wheelock Library, 3722 N. 26th
  • Monday, Oct. 29, 6-8pm, Main Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave., Olympic Room
  • Thursday, Nov. 1, 6-8pm, Lincoln High School, 701 S. 37th
  • Monday,Nov. 5, 6-8pm, Center at Norpoint, 4818 Nassau Ave., NE, Cascade Room

Happy 47th Birthday, Tacoma Mall!

On Tuesday, October 9, Steve Heim, the General Manager of Tacoma Mall, gave a brief presentation to Tacoma City Council’s Economic Development Committee.

Tacoma Mall first opened October 13, 1965, and was the second fully enclosed mall on the West Coast. Since then, the mall has undergone numerous changes, including expansions in 1973, 1981, and 2008.

In recent years there has been a surge of new, higher end stores introduced to the mall, further increasing the mall’s significance to the local community and surrounding region. Tacoma Mall now houses an Apple store that is 6,000 square feet and the largest in Washington State! In addition, there is no other Nordstrom located between Tacoma and Portland, making Tacoma a regional destination for their customer base.  

The mall’s property itself is unique in Tacoma, in that the 101 acres it sits on is privately owned, yet open to the public. You may not have realized that the mall also has 5.5 acres of green space. While the main building is enclosed, redevelopment has continued its move towards an open, outdoor feel.

Throughout his tenure at Tacoma Mall, Mr. Heim has made numerous noteworthy enhancements, renovating the mall’s outdoor and indoor appearance, improving security, reducing mall traffic congestion, and helping to bring in several highly desirable retailers and restaurants, all of which contribute to the mall’s exceptional atmosphere.

Tacoma Mall is not only significant to the City of Tacoma as a strong revenue source (the mall area’s sales tax provides approximately five percent of the city’s total general fund revenue), but also serving an important role in Tacoma’s community and economic development by providing numerous jobs, funding vital government services, and creating a regional draw to the area.

So happy birthday, Tacoma Mall! May we see many more years of strong business in the community!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Downtown: On the Go! presents Transportation Innovator Awards

Downtown On the Go honored five downtown businesses for their exemplary work in sustainable transportation and commute options today. The honorees were acknowledged and presented their awards at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s Luncheon featuring Transportation Innovator Awards at the Pacific Grill Events Center.
Award winners include:
·    Bold Step/Big Program: Columbia Bank for adopting the Live Downtown Program
·         Leaders in New Program: HomeStreet Bank for being leaders in Live Downtown Program for its inception
·         Sustainable Transportation Program: BLRB Architects for providing and promoting sustainable commute options and playing a leadership role in the community
·         Biking Strong: GeoEngineers for leadership and participation in Bike Month 2012
·         Parking Alternatives Program: UW Tacoma for long term planning and excellence in promoting sustainable transportation
·         Continued Leadership in Commute Trip Reduction: Jennifer Burley, Employee Transportation Coordinator, UW Tacoma 
Downtown On the Go presents the Transportation Innovator Awards annually to acknowledge and celebrate work being done that helps meet the Downtown On the Go goal of reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles by 11 percent by 2015. 
Visit Downtown On the Go's website for more information.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pierce County Leg Candidates Forum

Have you registered yet for the Pierce County Legislative Candidates Forum?

As of today, here's the list of RSVPs we've received that are committed to attend:

2nd Legislative District

Randi Becker - State Senate

Gary Alexander - State Rep. Pos. 1

Greg Hartman - State Rep. Pos. 1

25th Legislative District

Bruce Dammeier - State Senate

Dawn Morrell - State Rep. Pos. 1

Shelly Schlumpf - State Rep Pos. 1

Bill Hilton - State Rep Pos. 2

Hans Zeiger - State Rep Pos. 2

26th Legislative District

Larry Seaquist - State Rep Pos. 2

27th Legislative District

Jeannie Darneille - State Senate

Laurie Jinkins - State Rep. Pos. 1

Jake Fey - State Rep. Pos. 2

Lauren Walker - State Rep. Pos. 2

28th Legislative District

Paul Wagemann - State Rep. Pos. 2

29th Legislative District

Terry Harder - State Rep. Pos. 1

David Sawyer - State Rep. Pos. 1

Steve Kirby – State Rep. Pos. 2

30th Legislative District

Roger Flygare - State Rep Pos. 1

Katrina Asay - State Rep Pos. 2

31st Legislative District

Cathy Dahlquist - State Rep Pos. 1

Brian Gunn - State Rep Pos. 1

Lisa Connors - State Rep Pos. 2

Christopher Hurst - State Rep Pos. 2

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Proposed 2013/14 City of Tacoma Budget

On Tuesday, October 2nd, Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax presented an overview of the 2013/14 budget to the City Council.  While the presentation focused on an overview of the budget, there were a number of significant changes unveiled.

While the number that most people were waiting for was the staff reductions, there were structural changes proposed as well.  On the staff side, Broadnax proposed reductions totaling 217 FTEs, 153 of which are currently filled positions.  The city will continue to look into accommodating these reductions through retirements and other people choosing to leave the City.  Unfortunately, these vacancies are unlikely to total the number of needed positions.

Staff reductions will drive the reduction in the budget, however those remaining staff will see a restoration of some benefits lost during the prior round of cuts.  The proposal by the City Manager does not include cost of living adjustments for non-represented employees but does include step increases, a restoration of the roughly 9% pay reductions from 2012, previously agreed to salary adjustments for represented employees, and continuation of health coverage with anticipated cost increases of 12% per year in 2013 and 2014.

The positions being eliminated are being spread through the city departments.  While some departments had the size of the personnel reductions identified in the presentation and others did not, all departments would be reviewed in greater detail at a series of eight Council budget workshops over the next month.  While the personnel changes will have a direct impact on the ability of the City to provide services, many of the structural changes have the potential to impact the city for years to come as they become institutionalized.

The City has created three new departments to better address community concerns. This includes the new Environmental Services Department containing only the ratepayer supported utilities of the City not already under Tacoma Public Utilities.  In addition, the current and long range planning services like development review and comprehensive planning are being pulled out of Community and Economic Development to create a separate Planning & Development Services Department.  Additionally, Community Based Services and Human Services are being combined under a Neighborhood and Community Services umbrella.  Other departments are also seeing name changes to better reflect their refocus.  One example is the shift of "Community Relations" becoming "Media and Communications."

While cuts are one part of the proposal, the City Manager is also proposing to increase revenues through the implementation of a new $20 car tab fee as well as a $5.5M tax on non-profit healthcare facilities like hospitals.

Over the next few months, the Chamber will continue to track the City budget and offer opportunities for input to our members.  If you have any thoughts on the budget, please don't hesitate to contact your Chamber staff.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Innovating for Achievement

How do good schools contribute to a dynamic business environment? As a business owner or executive, what types of innovations should our local school district consider to help improve student achievement?
You can be part of this important conversation with Tacoma Public Schools:
Innovating for Achievement: A Discussion with Local Business Leaders

4 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22
535 Dock Street, Suite 205
Improving public education continues to be a top priority for many Chamber members, so we encourage you to participate.
If you’re unable to attend, Tacoma Public Schools invites you to complete a brief, confidential survey, confidential survey.
For questions, information or to RSVP to the Innovating for Achievement discussion, please call 253-284-2531.