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Pierce council may trim budget $5.4 million

Post by David Wickert on April 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm | 15 Comments »
April 5, 2010 2:59 pm

The Pierce County Council may trim spending by $5.4 million as the county wrestles with declining revenue.

The council also may freeze county hiring, ban most out-of-state travel and eliminate non-mandatory training to help balance the budget.

The proposal likely would mean layoffs in the planning department and cuts to such programs as 4-H and the Pierce County Fair. But spending on law enforcement and corrections would be spared under a plan approved by the council’s rules committee Monday. The full council will consider the measure Tuesday.

“It’s simply hard choices on top of hard choices,” council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, said

Roger Bush

at Monday’s committee meeting.

It’s been a year of hard choices for Pierce County.

The council twice reduced spending in 2009. In November it approved a $793 million 2010 budget that was 7 percent lower than the 2009 budget approved a year earlier.

The council cut more than 300 jobs, raised fees and eliminated services at 16 parks to balance this year’s spending plan. But it apparently wasn’t enough.

The latest revenue figures show sales tax receipts and planning department fees and charges.

Exactly how much they’re down is a subject of debate between the County Council and County Executive Pat McCarthy.

McCarthy has proposed a plan to cover a projected $4.1 million revenue shortfall in the county’s $269.3 million general fund.

Her solution: a 1 percent spending cut for most general fund departments, except the sheriff’s department and corrections. The executive also would use nearly $1.5 million in fund balances to help cover the deficit.

Bush’s plan, sent to elected officials Friday, anticipates a $5.4 million revenue shortfall. It cuts deeper and relies on only $484,000 in fund balances.

McCarthy criticized the council for unveiling the budget proposal on the Friday before Easter without having discussed it with her. She asked the council to postpone a final decision on the budget until next week.

“I don’t think we are in crisis,” McCarthy told the council, urging them to use “a scalpel as opposed to a hatchet.”

Bush said the council has been transparent and Friday’s release of the proposed budget cuts was earlier than in the past. And he noted the executive did not comply with a council request to provide plans for budget cuts of 1 percent and 3 percent back in January.

Numerous people representing various departments and public constituencies asked the council to reconsider spending cuts.

Several people from the Washington State University Pierce County Extension program testified that a proposed $200,000 cut – a 49 percent reduction in county funding – could decimate programs like 4-H and technical assistance to farmers. And a proposed $1.6 million (11.6 percent) cut to the planning department could mean 30 lost jobs, according to department director Chuck Kleeberg.

Bush said he could make a case preserving any individual program. But he said the council must consider its spending priorities in light of declining income, just like any family must.

Nonetheless, the council likely will amend the final proposal at its meeting Tuesday.

“Everything’s still on the table,” Bush said.

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