I knew there were budget troubles ahead. I didn't know they were quite this bad, though:
September 30, 2002
From the City Manager
Tacoma is facing its most difficult financial struggle since I started as City Manager in 1990. Budget projections show we’re between $18 million and $25 million short for the 2003-2004 General Fund biennial budget. And that’s just to maintain current services.
Some of our budget problems come from the general deterioration of the economy—both locally and nationally. In addition, the statewide tax-limiting initiatives have reduced the amount of revenue we get from property taxes. You may have read about the State of Washington’s, Seattle’s, King County’s and other government prospects for similarly harsh budget cuts. This time, even an upswing in the economy couldn’t clear up the problem. There’s no clear prospect for a turnaround any time soon.
Our $18 million to $25 million shortfall means we will have to cut many City services for the next two years and reduce the amount of the City’s contribution to other agencies. Unfortunately, it also means we have to eliminate important jobs throughout the organization. Because so much of the City’s General Fund budget is in salaries, we can’t balance the budget under current revenue projections without cutting personnel.
This is a tough time for all of us—those who face the layoffs and those watching their co-workers leave. Some of the people who will lose jobs I have come to know personally, have collaborated with on projects or have appreciated their efforts even if we never had a chance to speak personally. It is extremely unpleasant to think of letting go any of the very qualified and hard-working staff we have at the City of Tacoma.
Since the painful choices can’t be avoided, one of my goals is to make sure that all of you in our organization get the information you need to make personal and professional decisions in a timely manner. At the study session with the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 1), I will share with the City Council the budget reduction proposals submitted by the department directors. None of it should come as a surprise to those in the possible pool of layoffs. If a department’s proposal includes a cut to your position, your department director or
supervisor should have informed you to ensure you didn’t hear the news through the grapevine or by reading it in the newspaper.
Of course, nothing is final yet. By City Charter, I have until the end of October to present the City Council with a balanced budget proposal. The Council plans to adopt a 2003-2004 budget no later than mid-December. The Council also is considering a number of possible tax and fee increases to offset a small portion of our budget shortfall. But the fact remains that our General Fund departments—such as Police, Fire, parts of Public Works, Finance, Legal, General
Services, Economic Development and agencies such as Parks and Libraries—face service cuts.
The department directors have wrestled with their decisions over the last several weeks. If you have any questions about your position or what’s happening in your department, please talk to your supervisor or director. During this difficult time, if you need an impartial professional to talk to, let me remind you that the City of Tacoma offers an Employee Assistance Program that you can contact 24 hours a day to arrange for time to talk confidentially with a professional
counselor. That number is 1-800-523-5668.
I hope we’re able to weather this difficult and painful period at the City of Tacoma and regroup early next year after the budget is finalized. In the meantime, I ask that we all think about the
feelings of those who might lose their jobs and show them the respect they deserve for their years of good service to the City of Tacoma and our citizens.
Notice the pre-emptive "call the Employee Assistance Program" suggestion.
Notice the not-so-subtle dig at the voters who chose to limit property taxes to no more than a 1% increase ever year. Careful students of economics will note that 1) Washington has no state income tax, thus making property and sales taxes that much more crucial 2) a 1% increase isn't going to keep pace with inflation- it's a recipe for drastic budget cuts.
Is this what the voters intended? if so, they're morons. Bureaucratic waste aside, I doubt the city budget had $18 million worth of pork that was only gonna get cut if you "sent government a message".
I haven't heard what the library plans to do. there's lots of rumors, no plans. As the last MLIS librarian hired in a system with seniority rules, I could easily be toast. We lost one librarian in spring thru attrition, who we didn't replace, but we're looking at something like a 4-8% budget cut, so we may do further personnel trimming.
I should know more at the end of the month. And yes, I do have good cause to be worried, I'm not just being melodramatic for the hell of it. Good thing I was somewhat frugal during my SF vacation- I'm going to start saving even more aggressively now, until I escape the axe, or start collecting unemployment, whichever comes first.