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City Council Budget Priorities

This month Tacoma residents have the opportunity to learn more about the City of Tacoma's budget situation, and to share their opinions on the whole thing at a series of community input meetings. Last month the City Council completed an exercise to identify budget priorities for the City's 2015-2016 budget.

The basic situation is that by the end of the current biennium, revenues are expected to surpass expenditures, but that’s not going to last. If the City remains on the trajectory it’s on now, we’ll end up with a $6.4 million gap by the end of the next biennium, and a nearly $20 million gap by 2020. If deferred maintenance is added to the picture, those gaps could be between $40 and $50 million.

The Council budget exercise may seem familiar to anyone paying attention to the last round of budget setting in 2012. First, budget office staff asked the Council to answer two questions for each of a list of eight City services.

  • How well does the City's current level of service meet community expectations?
  • How important is the category of service overall, in relation to other City services?

To visualize the spread of expectations and importance, staff created a visual that plots importance of services on the x-axis, and satisfaction with services on the y-axis. Items falling in the upper left range of the graph would be those rated as highly satisfactory, with low importance, making them candidates for cuts. Items falling in the lower right quadrant would be those rated as highly important, but with low satisfaction, making them candidates for increased investment.

Street maintenance, for example, fell decisively in the lower right corner: low on the expectations, and high on importance. Special events, on the other hand, fell furthest to the left, but near the middle of the chart: low importance, and marginally above expectations.

The spread of Council rankings of individual service categories makes for some interesting food for thought. You can view graphs of where council members fell individually (though not by name), and the average by downloading the Rating of City Services handout (pdf). You can also download the full Budget Development Workshop Presentation (pdf).

In the second portion of the exercise, staff asked Council to take a hypothetical $10 budget, based on current rates of services funded, and re-allocate the funding as they would like to see it in the next biennium. 

The areas that showed the most change from current levels to the new average distribution were public works, which saw a 15% increase, and planning and development services, which saw a 15% decrease. Deferred maintenance and other capital projects and services, which were new this year, each got an average of six cents out of the $10 budget. All other categories of services saw a decrease in funding between 0.4% (police) and 6.1% (neighborhood and community services).

Of the areas where there was general Council agreement, three stood out for increases in funding: deferred maintenance of buildings, the City fleet, and technology upgrades; street repairs and maintenance; and other capital and services such as theaters and a new Eastside community center. Three areas where the Council generally agreed funding could be reduced were senior centers; fire prevention, education, and emergency management; and City-sponsored special events.

The results of these rankings are meant as a stepping off point for the next several months of hard work that it will take to bring Tacoma's budget together for the 2015-2016 biennium.

The public will have a chance to participate in the process at meetings scheduled for each district, beginning on Monday.

  • July 14th District 3 – Walker - Tacoma Nature Center, 6 - 8 p.m.
  • July 17th District 1 – Ibsen - Wheelock Library, 6 - 8 p.m.
  • July 24th District 5 – Lonergan - Birney Elementary School, 6 - 8 p.m.
  • August 4th District 4 – Campbell - Lincoln High School, 6 - 8 p.m.
  • August 7th District 2 – Thoms - Stadium High School, 6 - 8 p.m

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