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TACOMA: Tell us what we’re paying for

Letter by Stephen Hemmert, Tacoma on Aug. 26, 2010 at 9:37 am with 22 Comments »
August 26, 2010 9:37 am

The Tacoma City Council needs to examine what the proper role of city government is and the essential services it needs to provide.

I am billed by Tacoma Public Utilities for power, water, garbage, sewer, storm sewer. I am billed for cable service. I pay property taxes for Tacoma School District No. 10. I pay for the Port of Tacoma. I pay for Metro Parks.

It’s time for the City Council to explain in lay terms what the government is paying for. It’s fine to refinance debt to reduce payments, but that should be done without regard to the budgetary crisis.

Maybe the council needs to rein in the role of government and provide only essential services. There appears to be a lot of fluff in the budget.

Even in good times, what were we paying for?

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Leave a comment Comments → 22
  1. Stephen,
    All you are doing is complaining. Anyone can do that. The real test is to offer solutions. Let us in on your ideas about what the “fluff” is and what you would do about it. Otherwise…………….!

  2. Sumner401 says:

    Water, sewer, garbage, education and parks, yep it’s all ‘fluff’.

  3. tomwa007 says:

    Throw out city pensions like most companies are doing. Make workers pay for larger portions ot thier insurance. Quit throwing funerals for city employees on our tax dollars. The list goes on………..

  4. Ok Publico, Where’s the complaint? Where’s the solution? The letter is an observation of what we are paying for that is off budget. We pay for the service enumerated. I am asking the city government (maybe that’s you) to explicitly state what the taxes raised are spent on. How can I or anyone offer solutions, if there is no disclosure of the expenses? I tried to be active in my neighborhood and met with council members and staff on issues.

    I tried to get flashing traffic beacons in front of my local remodeled elementary school and was told there was no money. I was told by Kurt Kingsolver it cost $20,000 for a pair of traffic beacons and the city budget appropriates $30,000 for traffic beacons during the budgetary cycle. Do the math Publico! That’s one traffic beacon per budgetary cycle. Meanwhile, as stated by other posters in this cite, hundred of thousands of dollars were spent to beautify the roadway at the intersection at South 84th and Park Avenue which is at Fern Hill Elementary School. The city council/city budget staff can spend a lot of dollars on unnecessary projects, but, cannot spend money on traffic beacons at elementary schools? Instead of one beautified intersection, how many flashing traffic signals could have been installed at elementary schools throughout the city? That’s an example of lousy priorities the city staff has shown.

    Also, has anybody on the city council asked the finance department as to the amount of tax dollars lost due to the ten year tax abatement program. Are not other taxpayers making up the loss? Is the city budget suffering? Yes.

    So, I am assuming, Publico, that you are part of the city establishment.

  5. I support you Stephen, This policy of bundling all bills together is just another way for them to sneak in extra charges. For instance, I’d like to see a break down of the sewer charge. How often are the lines flushed etc. I don’t live in Tacoma but Pierce County bundles some of their utilities and are very reticent to detail exactly where the money is going. If you go out and have your car serviced, you expect a detail showing what was done, why shouldn’t this be the case with utilities?

  6. Sumner401: I am trying to figure out what your point is. My point on paying for those off budget items is the assumption the rate payers are covering the costs of those particular services. I am assuming my Click bill covers the cost of providing cable service to my home. I am assuming the levies for the Port of Tacoma pay for its capital construction and operating expenses. I am assuming my utility bill covers the costs of those operations, and, yes, my utility bill insert advises me I will be billed for new capital improvements for water purification and because the sale of surplus electricity is diminishing I will have my rates increased. These services for which I am presumably paying for their costs are not my idea of ‘fluff.’ ‘Fluff’ is colored concrete roadway panels at 84th and Park Avenue or the tribute art to fallen motorcyclists at 48th Street and Yakima Avenue. Neighborhood grants that go to that sort of thing are crumbs thrown to the masses that are paid for by taxpayers. Those monies could have been spent more wisely, even in good times.

  7. Pat_riot says:

    “I am billed by Tacoma Public Utilities for power, water, garbage, sewer, storm sewer…”

    I’d guess you are paying, in these instances, for those essential services.

    But yeah, the rest needs to be reined in dramatically.

  8. A321196 I think it would be great if you and InsideJob started a blog detailing Tacoma spending.

    BTW, those intersections with the textured, colored concrete are butt ugly. We have one at Proctor and N 26th. How anyone could think it was an improvement over the plain asphalt intersection is beyond my comprehension.

  9. Hey everyone liking Stephen’s letter, I’m still waiting for the “Fluff” to be defined. Just because you don’t understand priorities doesn’t mean you are correct or because you don’t like a construction style that yours would get more votes.
    I bet there are audits that are public documents. I also bet they will not be free, so anty up and get one and happy reading.

  10. Publico: I’m waiting for somebody to indicate what the city is spending money on. You have an answer Publico? Are you the media consultant for the City of Tacoma who monitors the Tacoma News Tribune. Fluff is non essential spending, period!

  11. PumainTacoma says:

    Amen. And stop giving monies to non-profits on my tax payer dime. Safe Streets and those MLK cronies need to stop asking for money from the trough. Just fund the basics. I don’t need my hard earned cash paying for more hand outs. And the cops can keep their cars in the garage and stop with the drive it home perk, some all the way to Centralia. No more $10,000 mesh back chairs or fancy furniture. Grab the 3M duct tape and live like private companies are doing. Many have to take out their own trash because there are limited janitorial service. Get real folks. The bump is here to stay for a couple of years. The council can brown bag their meals too. Live like the rest of society, knock this catering buffets off before council meetings.

  12. Sumner401 says:

    I to am waiting for the “fluff” to be defined. You assume there is “fluff” but you can’t seem to tell us what it is.
    Maybe when you pay your water bill you are in fact paying to get water delivered to your home. Go and check for us, when you turn your tap on, do you get water?
    If so, you are getting what you paid for.

  13. redneckbuck says:

    sewer customer have paid 121 million and counting, for a great golf course.

  14. “redneckbuck says:
    August 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm
    sewer customer have paid 121 million and counting, for a great golf course.”

    That, my friend, is a totally false statement. You can believe it if you want to, but when you publish it, it is an opprobrium to yourself.

  15. Sumner401- I gave you an example of non essential spending, ornament concrete intersections that took monies away from asphalt road repairs. The fact is a budget is submitted to the city council, which does not identify the specifics of a line item.

    As to the comment on the water bill. You are obviously not getting the point. I am assuming the cost of providing water to me is borne by the rate payers of that service! No? My water bill insert tells me to brace for an increase in water and electric rates to meet decreases in revenue due to conservation, reduced sales of surplus electricity and capital improvements required for water purification. Those are expenses to be borne by the rate payers and not the general fund.

    Since the city government has already trimmed expenses by tens of millions of dollars, are we not to assume those were critical expenses and the city has fallen apart. Whenever times are good and the money rolls in, government and private enterprise feel a need to spend it rather than return the money to the taxpayers, pay increased dividends, etc.

    Wasn’t the city ready to spend tens of millions of dollars to keep Russell Investments in town? Were those expenses essential? Apparently not since the expenses have not been made since Russell Investments decided to quit town. If the expenses were essential, they would have already been made. The only thing lost with Russell Investment leaving town was prestige. The city was going to create a B&O Tax free zone for RI. The RI employees, working in Tacoma or Seattle, will still spend their money here. The rest that live in the ‘burbs’ never spent their money here.

  16. A321196, almost all of the extra cost of the streetscape improvements in Proctor (or any other official Business District) comes from special fees and taxes paid by businesses. The businesses get to decide what improvements they want to pay for, so if you think the intersection is “fluff”, then please go to one of their meetings. The Business District program has been extremely successful in keeping the infrastructure of our main business areas attractive and inviting and almost 100% paid for by private businesses.

    When you talk about services that are paid out of the general fund, and not fees or levies specifically charged for services, then you are looking at:

    Police 32.9%
    Fire 22.0
    Public Works 13.4%
    Library 5.6
    Mun. Court 1.8
    Econ Dev 2.7

    That’s 94%, and the rest are small items such as Human Resources, Planning, etc.

    I am sure there are some cuts that can be made everywhere. People get upset when the Council mentions cuts to Police and Fire when big cuts are necessary, but that is where most of the money goes.

    So, please name real “fluff”. I am sure the City Council would love to hear from you. They need all the citizen support they can get when talking about budget cuts, because it is going to hurt someone, and no one is going to be happy when cuts are made.

  17. redneckbuck says:

    I went back to 2004 in city budgets myself and found 61 million in golf course, specifically Chambers Bay, spending. The land costs the county 41 million. I assume 2011 will have costs associated with it.

  18. redneckbuck, is your nose growing? Chambers is a Pierce County golf course and park, so if you found that Tacoma paid $61 million for it you must be looking at the la-la land internet. Please get back on your meds and retry your post.

  19. redneckbuck, here are the real numbers according to a News Tribune story in March. I think you are confusing obligation and spending. Pierce County loaned the golf course $20.8 million originally with the loan backed by sewer bonds. Since then it has loaned another $4.5 million for improvements needed for the US Amateur. Last year the golf course did not make a profit as it did the first year.after paying its yearly debts, including loan repayments and sales taxes. If the course continues to lose money then sewer customers and county taxpayers will have to pay the deficit for the bonds used for construction. Since bonds are paid out over time, the county has only paid $685,000 so far for the course. If the golf course makes money, then it will be revenue for the county.

  20. Sumner401 says:

    I think you are wasting your time tuddo, the whiners just want to whine, facts don’t enter the picture, only the whining counts.

  21. Sumner401, I really don’t care whether people whine or not. If they whine about matters that are factually correct, then its just an opinion. When they distort the facts to make their whines seem more reasonable or to persuade other people who may not know the facts to whine too, then I call them on it.

  22. Sumner401 says:

    And you should, I do too but the whiners won’t notice or understand the facts.
    Facts are contrary to their agenda.

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