Political Buzz

Talking WA politics.

NOTICE: Political Buzz has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Political Buzz.
Visit the new section.

Pierce County cuts spending, raises fees for 2010. More cuts may be coming.

Post by David Wickert on Nov. 11, 2009 at 4:48 am with 7 Comments »
November 11, 2009 4:56 am

The Pierce County Council Tuesday approved a 2010 budget that cuts more than 300 jobs, raises fees and paves the way for a major consolidation of county government in the year ahead.

The council approved a $269.3 million general fund budget that’s about 7 percent smaller than the 2009 budget adopted a year ago. The result will be fewer sheriff’s deputies on the street, longer lines for building permits and sporadic closures of some county offices as employees take furloughs.

Though the budget passed with a unanimous vote, no one professed to like it.

Roger Bush
Roger Bush

“No one will say this is a good budget,” said council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham. “It is an ugly budget.”

Tuesday’s vote brings to a close a year of cost-cutting in county government. The council and County Executive Pat McCarthy have cut spending in response to diminished sales taxes, planning fees and other income brought on by the economic recession.

In September McCarthy proposed a 2010 budget that would cut 284 jobs, eliminated services at 16 parks and otherwise trim spending.

The final budget approved by the council goes further. It cuts an additional $2.9 million from the general fund and socks away another $1.5 million in reserve to cover future budget problems.

The big loser: the planning and land services department, which lost $1.9 million on top of cuts already proposed by McCarthy. Between cuts proposed by the council and executive, the department will lose 25 positions, some through layoffs.

Councilman Shawn Bunney, R-Lake Tapps, said staffing levels in the planning department don’t reflect the low level of permitting activity he thinks will continue into 2011. But planning department director Chuck Kleeberg told the council the staff cut will mean long lines for building permits when the economy turns around.

Other departments also will reduce staff. The sheriff’s department will lose 15 sheriff’s deputies.

“What that will mean is there will be fewer services,” said Sheriff Paul Pastor. “The simple math is, less means less.”

Pastor said he will make the best of the resources he’s given. Crimes that threaten life and property immediately will be a top priority. But he said lower-level property crimes are “probably where things will give.”

Some departments will use furloughs – or unpaid employee leave – to cut costs in 2010. Similar moves this year led departments like planning and district court to close or reduce services for several days.

Spending cuts aren’t the only means the council and executive used to balance the budget. Building permit and other planning fees will rise even as service suffers. Parks fees will increase. So will sewer and surface water rates.

The basic monthly sewer charge for a single family residence will rise $3.93 to $29.65. That’s a 15 percent increase.

The overall county budget – including sewers, roads and a host of other services – is down 7 percent from a year ago to $793 million.

A spokesman for McCarthy said she was studying the council’s final budget and would issue a statement today.

Tough as the budget looks, more cuts may be on the way. The county faces several unknown or possible costs that could bust the budget.

Unemployment and other costs for closing the county’s mental health division this fall are still being calculated. County and union officials are still negotiating the cost of employee health insurance. Lawsuits and other unexpected costs also could affect the budget.

As a result, the council has asked McCarthy to report back in January on how she would cut the budget an additional 1 percent and  3 percent, if needed. And it is pushing to consolidate county departments in an effort to improve efficiency and save money.

“This may be a time when we look back and say, maybe we should have cut further,” Bush said.

Leave a comment Comments → 7
  1. tree_guy says:

    “The council has asked McCarthy to report back in January on how she would cut the budget an addition 1 and 3 percent.”

    No need to wait for January, I can give you a solution right now. Make an across the board pay cut for all county employees sufficient to achieve a $2.7M reduction and an $8.1M reduction.

  2. It is to bad that the Council is depending on county departments taking furlough days again in 2010 to help balance the budget. Those that are Union members have to vote on taking the furloughs. It is not a given that the vote will pass. From what I have heard there are a lot of employees that will not vote for furloughs next year. Maybe the county needs to look at the management and the number of managers and lead workers that there are. Make the cuts there instead of cutting those that serve on the front lines. They don’t need managers that do nothing but crunch numbers and micro-manage their employees.

  3. RonMorehouse says:

    Once again this shows priority of county council. They would rather increase crime then to fight it. They first eliminate a judge position that was not theirs to remove, then they start to eliminate the sheriff department. Can anyone spell corruption? Maybe this is why we have the high crime rate and large gangs?

    The council job is to protect the citizens of this county. Provide an infrastructure for transportation,(which they also do not listen to the people) example is spending millions for barriers down 176th and using excuse we will lose money if we do not build as we decided. Also have you seen the millions in tax dollars that are going to charities (which I do not remember authorizing my tax dollars for) I will donate to charity with my own money. Many of these organizations chair persons make a salary in the millions

    Maybe this is just political pay back for contributions

    Ron Morehouse
    Fiscal Conservative

  4. hoodwinked says:

    The cost of medical is a major issue for me and to take furlough on top of that, there isn’t enough left to pay the bills. Why is it that only the worker-bees are the ones taking furlough? I don’t see the ones making the big bucks willing to sacrifice for the rest of us? If there are some, then why not all? Fees going up and people losing jobs is not my idea of a balanced budget. Again, the cuts are not where the money is! And why do non-represented employees get a 2.5% pay INCREASE? What’s wrong with this picture!!!???

  5. As a former 23 year employee of Pierce County I couldn’t agree more with the mention of a current emphasis looking at the consolidation of County services and functions. One of the unique aspects of serving in government and the cause of much of the frustration taxpayers feel about government in general…especially Pierce County government…is the size, unresponsiveness, and waste of time and money that occurs on a daily basis in the administration of public services. The biggest reason that happens in government is the overloaded cadre of managers and supervisors it takes to operate Pierce County in general. The private sector operates typically on a 8:1 ratio of workers to managers while Pierce County government operates on a 3:1 ratio of workers to managers throughout the 3000+ employee County work force. It is incredible the size of County departments and the redundancy and replication of services that exists County wide. A good case in point is the Pierce County Facilities Management Department …and one I am very familiar with having been an employee there for 23 years. What was once a section of another County department became its “own” department late in the Joe Stortini administration by the stroke of an administrative pen. Executive Stortini created the Facilities department…many believed… to reward a former executive aide(Dan Cagle)by providing him a safe and secure County position before the new Executive’s administration(Doug Sutherlin)took office. Not to criticize the Stortini administration because it is a common practice for outgoing executive’s to “take care” of their folks as much as they can…and every administration while I worked there pretty much did the same thing. That is not my complaint! The point I want to bring up is how much of a boondoggle and money pit the Facilities Management Department has become in the past 20 some years…and that gives you a perspective about whats wrong with Pierce County government in particular. What was once a streamlined “division” of skilled repairmen and part of a larger County department(Parks) with just a Superintendent and Office Assistant to manage a group of skilled repairmen has become a money devouring monster with layers of high salaried management staff…quite often duplicating or replicating the services or functions of other departments. Facilities Management has become so unresponsive and irresponsible that when Councilmember Bush asked the Director of Facilities why the County was leasing so much office space…at a cost of millions…while County owned space was available at no cost to the County the reply was that the County owned space was unsuitable. Unsuitable? Ever hear of a remodel? Oh yeah…thats right the Facilities Management team just remodeled the leased space they moved from at the 955 Building a year earlier for $50,000 all the while knowing they were moving…and then remodeled the leased space at their new digs for $100,000 before moving in. Then have the audacity to testify to a duly elected official(Councilmember Bush) about how County owned space is “unsuitable”. Where has the notion of public service gone? So Facilities Management goes out and leases a space in the Columbia bank Building for $5000 a month? While a County owned building sits vacant across the street from the County-City Building? That type of thinking doesn’t survive long in the real world…why should it thrive in local government. When I started with the County there still was a notion of public service=meaning the taxpayers came first and we made do with what we had. Now there is a culture of elitism and a profound disconnect with the public in general as far as the management of public funds. Whole divisions have grown within the Facilities department such as Real Property and Construction which are redundant functions and have always been primarily a Public Works function and should be managed by that department. The truth is Facilities Management should have always been a division of Parks or Public Works as it is with other other sister agencies. The elimination of much of the management staff of Facilities Management and the department being re-organized under Parks or Public Works would save the County millions in salaries as well as streamlining the essential functions of County government by eliminating the duplication of services and costs associated with providing them. Having served Executive McCarthy personally for several years while she served in the Auditor’s office…I know the Exec to be a dedicated and responsible leader and a public servant of high ethical standards. It is unfortunate that her administration has had the misfortune of presiding in such severe economic times. But in every dark cloud there is a silver lining…and the current economic climate provides Executive McCarthy a once in a lifetime opportunity to do some real good for the taxpayers and citizens of Pierce County. By taking her budgetary pen…with the advice and consent of the County Council…the Exec should facilitate the much needed change in County government by re-organizing and streamlining departments, services, and functions. Getting back to my original point…with the growth and the largess of the County’s “management” staff …acknowledging the self survival human instinct inherent in all of us,,,you can’t ask County managers to “cut” their budgets and expect any meaningful results. They tend to cut services to the public and front line staff…but not themselves. You just wind up in a Catch 22 situation as a politician asking for cuts because the people you are asking to cut their budgets are the very ones that need to be eliminated. It just won’t work that way and the 3:1 ratio I mentioned earlier in this blog concerning worker to manager will never be addressed. Departmental budgetary and policy wonks tend to talk over the heads of elected officials and when they are asked real questions they hedge and dodge so you can’t trust what they say…all you get is gibberish. That is why it is up to the elected officials of County government to use old fashioned commom sense approach and bravely weild the budgetary axe. My advice to Executive McCarthy is to bring real and meaningful change to County government by eliminating redundancy everywhere possible with the authority of her executive pen. Anything and everything that can be eliminated, reduced, or reorganized should be on the table. It CAN be accomplished while preserving the essential and emergency services the County provides. By focusing in on non-essential functions and redundant operations the Executive has the power to fundamentally change the structure of County government forever. There are way too many managers and redundant functions among County departments and it needs an overhaul from top to bottom. If the Exec succeeds in this endeavor a bright future may await her politically…failure to act swiftly and courageously in the face of this economic crisis…with the budgetary and organizational changes that are needed to reform and streamline County government…her prospects will greatly diminish. The last Exec who demonstrated fiscal responsibility and courageous cost cutting while with Pierce County ended up being a two term Govenor. Executive McCarthy should take note!

  6. ldozy1234 says:

    Thanks Jdailey- I think you summed up what almost every citizen here see’s as the problem within Pierce County, but it keeps falling on deaf ears.
    And your was only one dept.
    Too many managers, incorrect ration supervisors/workers, wasted budgets and Dept Chiefs that plead inability to reduce budget when its their bloated priorites that cause the problem. We all know when it comes to budget, the mindset is ” spend it all, because if you don’t they’ll take it away”. Well, now its bare bones and the game is ending.
    I also think any unions that refuse to accept furlough days instead of layoffs, need to not only have their next contracts include the right to enact furloughs but also just have positions eliminated.

  7. It’s all ways those who are productive members of society that have to pay the price. Heaven forbid that the county make cut to those who receive help from DSHS who are crack head, felons and alcoholics. who don’t work and heaven forbid we make cuts to those who receive the food stamps dept card which they can’t afford to food on the table but they can afford to pay 170.00 a mth for cable & internet 100.00 for cellphone service,9,000 a year for cigarettees,1,000.00 a year for alcohol

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0