Blue Byline

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Police and fire cuts highlight city’s fiscal irresponsibility

Post by Brian O'Neill on Dec. 7, 2011 at 11:03 am with 19 Comments »
December 7, 2011 9:00 pm

If you are a vile Grinch (or perhaps Tim Eyman) then the Tacoma municipal budget may be giving you everything you want this Christmas, such as:

No more fire stations for Proctor and the Tide Flats. Don’t worry, everything there was either old or flammable anyway.

No more school resource officers. No problem – just hang a few “No bullying” signs.

No more fire boats. Heck, if the fire’s on the water then it’s not really a problem (let’s just overlook all the chemicals and HAZMAT at the port, though).

No more gang unit. Well, they’ll just have to behave themselves.

Enough. No matter how you look at the current Tacoma budget issue, it’s going to hurt. However, this pain will not only be on the faces of those receiving (or who have already received) city pink slips. Nope, this pain will be the real thing.

Cutting proactive police resources means that otherwise preventable crime will occur. Lopping off an entire traffic squad will lead to more and deadlier collisions. Longer fire and police response times will result in more human suffering. These are not guesses.

Two thoughts come to mind as the City Council faces city unions, outraged citizens and this budget. First, maybe Interim City Manager Ray Arrellano wasn’t bluffing after all. Some of us not privy to the city’s account books wrongly assumed that Arrellano’s previous references to drastic public safety cuts were simply the first tilt in a fiscal tug of war. We have ample example. The federal government certainly takes its brinksmanship seriously, not caring that their highjinks might cool an already frigid economy.

The second thought is wrapped up in an outraged box of frustration and can thus be summed up: Why did this fiscal implosion take anyone by surprise?

The threat of huge budget cuts is, like the collective outrage at city council meetings, a little late in coming. Our region has had numerous signs of fiscal desperation from many areas, especially the real estate and construction sectors. Permits lie as dormant as empty storefronts. Real estate signs grow mold. City coffers collect dust.

The only people who seem shocked by this budget are city officials whose function is to manage it.

Other municipalities have demonstrated much more prudence. Many cities took the preemptive steps, including laying off administrative positions, cutting expenses, and requesting (and receiving) union concessions. This early lead gave city governments some breathing room up until this anemic recovery we are currently experiencing.

Meanwhile, most wage negotiations in the public sector have degraded union salary and benefits. Then there is Tacoma.

Not even two months ago the city provided a 5% pay increase to both the city police and fire chief. Though this is a small monetary issue in comparison to the huge deficit, what it says about the city’s mindset and its awareness of fiscal reality is no small issue. It pains me to ask, but was there absolutely no indication, even two months ago, that a massive wave of deficit was rolling up the Tide Flats?

In this world you have to pay to play. If the city doesn’t have enough money for the “luxury” of providing the current level of public safety, then apparently we will have to settle for less. But wouldn’t it be interesting to know what would have happened if the City of Tacoma had been better prepared for an economic collapse that has apparently been lying in wait since 2008?

Leave a comment Comments → 19
  1. quorient says:

    Just curious what the lay offs mean for the TPD boat and marine patrols?Will the boat and jet skis patrols remain in the TPD budget?They would be the only remaining PD or FD units for marine use in Tacoma waters.Think Ill upgrade the locks and chains on my kicker motor, now its 100% certain they will never be checked if stolen.

  2. Chippert says:

    The fire boat is not going away. It will remain docked at the Ruston Way station and will be used for major fires. Just a minor correction, Brian.

    While I agree that the city was lax in preparation, as little as two years ago they were touting that they were financially fine when all around was going to heck, there are still some things that are missing here. Given the reality of the budgets, why on earth would the city employee unions refuse to even talk about give backs and insist on scheduled raises the past two years? Why would the police and fire unions not offer to re-open negotiations on pay and benefit cuts to help save the jobs of the less-senior members? During the recent city teachers strike, why did these same unions unequivocally support the teachers union? Why did the city not make these dire straights known to the public (and the teachers) during those negotiations, letting everyone know that more money (or no cuts) for the teachers would mean budget cuts and layoffs elsewhere, including public safety?

    It is a fact that public safety comprises over 70% of the city budget and that any major shortfall in revenues must result in cuts there. That is unfortunate but you get what you pay for.

    And by the way, cutting the upper level management salaries or even laying off every one of them would not save more than a very few jobs. Firefighters and policemen are the highest paid employees outside of Tacoma Public Utilities. That alone contributes to the problem.

  3. BigSwingingRichard says:

    Funny how there was no mention of this fiscal title wave prior to the election for a few of our moronic city council members. Why was that?

    Our clueless mayor initiated a reduced Tacoma B&O tax, comparative wage increases for city employees, paid travel expenses to Arizona for a retiring city council member, raises for the fire and police chief because their direct report’s wages have risen too high and all the while we are about to get “rain gardens” built into pacific avenue to match the million dollar Pagota and pot stores on a corner near you.

    We need to get rid of the mayor and the other liberals on the council, Mello and Walker.

    11% of the city employees are losing their jobs due to fiscal mismanagement.

    There are nine city council members. One should resign now, which is, by the way, an 11% reduction.

    Seems only fair and the Mayor is the first one who needs to go.

  4. smokey984 says:

    First of all. Good topic for discussion Brian. Thank you for staying on top of the issues. Although i don’t always agree with your opinions your courage to write in-spite of your position/profession is an example to set for others.

    This is an example of “Absolute power absolute corrupts.” Mix in a healthy dose of incompetence and corruption and here we go…

    Its also a symptom of higher unemployment which equates to lower tax revenue, meaning less money to pay for our first responders. And to think…this is just the start folks. With permanent dwindling liquid energy supplies we cannot have economic growth. Over the course of the next 30 years or so…anyway that’s another topic for discussion.

    This snowball has been gaining traction for years and not planning for it makes my blood boil.

    Although having been born and raised in Tacoma i still keep up with current events living down here in SoCal…

    Vote with your feet folks. If your not happy with how your elected/hired officials are running business the best thing you can do is leave.

    Protesting/OWS only irritates these goons in charge and allows them to order your first responders, which you pay for, to “quiet the crowd” so to speak.

    Find a community who’s elected/hired officials are fiscally responsible and more importantly “accountable to the tax payer.”

  5. I really don’t think that police people can be replaced with
    technology. That what the voters are trying to do with the
    12 million dollars in radio and dispatch gear. Stop this
    fascination with stupid electronic gadgets and we might get
    somewhere.

  6. PumainTacoma says:

    Obama says” do you really need that added medical service”.

  7. dinseattle says:

    I think this is bull. There is a lot of fat at the top of the City. Can you explain to me how they can put millions in a fund for rock gardens but they can’t make payroll? Does Tacoma really need a rock garden, flower garden, or whatever right now? Okay, so you reduce police and fire. Now Tacoma becomes worse than it already is. Businesses will leave, people will begin to shop elsewhere more than they do now, and ultimately Tacoma will become a Detroit or a Chicago or St. Louis. Now my husband’s life is in danger because he cannot get back up. Should my husband lose his life due to the City’s negligence by being unable to provide adequate staffing, I will sue. You think the citizens of Tacoma won’t sue due to inadequate response times when their loved one dies or their child is missing and there are no police or fire to respond? If crime is bad, the fire dept. isn’t going to respond. My husband plans to retire within this next decade. These young officers are needed to take his place. He needs to get these young officers trained to take over for him. He carries a lot of duties. In 8 years, the City will be down 160 officers, or half their staff. They will probably still be in a hiring freeze or barely hiring, but who is going to be there to train them? Who is going to police the City? Have they sought legal advice from an outside attorney re: their potential liabilities? Has that been figured into this budget? How can an IT guy figure out a budget? He doesn’t know finance, he knows computers. Am I angry? Yes. It is the holidays. These young officers and firefighters have young families to think about. Just as my husband is devoted to the citizens of Tacoma, so are these young people that are just starting their careers. I just do not think laying off police and fire is going to fix the budget – I think it is going to make that gap wider in a few more years when the lawsuits begin, the City’s bond rating drops, citizen’s homeowner and auto insurance rise, etc. In a few more years, there will be more to worry about than this budget. Just a thought.

  8. Chippert says:

    dinseattle, everyone has a family to think of. If not firefighters and police, who would you lay off instead? What about their families? Would you be just as angry?

    Incidentally, if you and your husband love the citizens of Tacoma so darned much, why are you “d in Seattle”?

  9. “The second thought is wrapped up in an outraged box of frustration and can thus be summed up: Why did this fiscal implosion take anyone by surprise?

    The threat of huge budget cuts is, like the collective outrage at city council meetings, a little late in coming. Our region has had numerous signs of fiscal desperation from many areas, especially the real estate and construction sectors. Permits lie as dormant as empty storefronts. Real estate signs grow mold. City coffers collect dust”

    If you look at the 2011-2012 budget, page 32, you will see that the city didn’t expect any revenue from building permits. So that doesn’t seem to be the problem.

    http://www.cityoftacoma.org/Page.aspx?hid=1235

    On page 10 of the budget workshop, you can see where the revenue isn’t coming in.

    Note the city didn’t start seeing the problem until July or first of August. So I’m willing to cut them some slack.

    http://www.cityoftacoma.org/

    What I do find interesting is the projected 12 million in overspending on page 12 of the workshop presentation. I would like to see the city manager give us some more detail and an explanation.

  10. BlaineCGarver says:

    The lower enlisted members of the military are being blown up, shot, and dying for a WHOLE lot less than cops and firemen. Don’t cut feet on the ground, cut the Lt and other middle management. Oh, wait, silly me, the union will protect the senior worthless everytime.

  11. Brian O'Neill says:

    Most police and fire departments, especially Tacoma PD, are filled with either war vets or reservists who continue to serve and deploy. Keep your moral outrage for a worthy topic, Blaine.

  12. rivitman says:

    Brian misses the point that like many hierarchical organizations, there may be to much middle and upper management, and too few beat cops.

    It’s a legitimate point that Brian dismisses outright.

    Also worthy topic Blaine, would be, should be, “are those veterans in the police force going to disregard their still binding oath of enlistment when the politicians order them to violate the constitution?”

    Your Oath NEVER expires!

    Veterans, you swore an Oath.
    An oath that puts the constitution in position #1 of authority and importance.

    Oath of Enlistment

    I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

    Indeed.

  13. yabetchya says:

    chippert says…..The fire boat is not going away. It will remain docked at the Ruston Way station and will be used for major fires

    For your information there is NO boat on Ruston way, hasn’t been for a few years.

  14. BlaineCGarver says:

    My “moral outrage” was not for being hurt or killed doing your job, Brian, it was meant to suggest that cops could and should make a little less, and that middle management is like the teats on a boar hog.

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    Wages and benefits are a negotiated item, whether in the private or public sector. It is tough to get highly qualified individuals to apply for a job that exposes them to personal danger, and has them working weekends, nights and holidays in any type of weather. If you don’t pay people what they’re worth, then agencies will be feeding off the bottom of the resume stack to fill public safety positions that carry a great deal of civil liability.

    Public safety wages differ depending on the agency, and I’ll grant that occasionally an agency will get out of line with their salary scale. But that applies to underpaid cops and firefighters as well as to those who may get a little bit too much. And while I agree that middle management can get bloated, it is an absolutely necessity to have top quality leaders in position to handle the training, administration, policy, civil liability and safety issues that inundate the public safety sector.

  16. Blame it on your unions. They make me sick. Law enforcement is very highly paid!! I know Seargents making 130k a year getting massive overtime. And Tacomas unions forced a 5 percent pay raise during these economic times. Brian-save your moral outrage for your own unions and guilds. They ARE the problem. It is time to limit public sector union bargaining privileges(they are NOT rights).

  17. And Brian is incorrect saying it is hard to get good people. People line up for firefighter and police jobs. They have no shortage of high quality candidates. It is a lie to say that these bloated wages are necessary to get quality people.

  18. steve_allison says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen. I have read all the posts above – good discussion .

    Smoky – MOVE ? I’m not sure the answer is to move . I don’t think a lot of people can even afford to move . Jeez, I guess you did when you moved?

    Overtime – the reason for some of the police overtime is you do not have enough officers avalible to staff needs ( and deal with other unforseen things like protesters at the port etc. ) .

    Salary cuts- start at the top city manager and other directors that did not budget for obivous problems headed our way. A min. 10% cut in pay , a give back from leaders would be a good way to start. The folks making the decisions and making the most money should pay up . Their poor perfomance in managing things led to this and now their pay should be docked to start with . Good times and good performance equals good pay, and now … the reverse . No high pay for making bad calls . That’s the risk of being in charge : you do well you are rewarded , you do poorly – you don’t . It would show some guts and decency for top folks and elected officials to take a big pay cut and be part of the solution. give it back.

  19. Brian O'Neill says:

    At least with respect to police officers, my experience is in direct contrast to the observation that there is “no shortage of high quality candidates” for public safety jobs.

    The weeding out process includes academic and athletic performance measurements, physical and psychological health, aptitude and attitude, and a candidate’s criminal and personal history. I have watched a line of 2000 applicants dwindle down to a handful of qualified applicants, some of whom took jobs elsewhere or inevitably decided that the stress of the job wouldn’t work out. The police academy and field training program weeds out more. I am not suggesting that police work requires an elite individual, but it does typically require a huge number of applicants to find the few qualified to receive a job offer.

    The average pay range for a cop is about $45K for a new hire on up to about $80K for a veteran with corollary duties, such as SWAT. Sergeant’s typically receive about 15% more. When I refer to my job as a profession, it is a sincere viewpoint and this salary scale reflects that commitment.

    Despite that, the Tacoma police union really does need to dig deep to keep some of their brothers and sisters on the job. Since our unions are completely separate–and mine has already given concessions–I’ll leave it to them to figure it out.

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