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County budget proposal contains 2.5 percent raises but cuts expenses by 6 percent

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on Sep. 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
September 24, 2010 4:49 pm

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has delivered a proposed $760 million budget package for 2011 to the County Council.

Pat McCarthy

It’s about 6 percent below the 2010 budget level but doesn’t feature the deep cuts made in 2009 and 2010, McCarthy said this morning.

You can read a copy of McCarthy’s message on the budget and see the entire proposal here.

She and her staff believe consolidation of some services and a reduction in capital projects can help make up for dwindling revenues in a tough economy.

Even so, the budget does call for the reduction of  43 jobs, 32 of them in general government. Some 16 of those general government workers could lose their jobs; the other positions are vacant and won’t be filled, McCarthy said. She said she didn’t know where the layoffs might be.

McCarthy’s spending plan includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for county workers, even though she’s said she’d like to cancel it at a time of reverse inflation. The Consumer Price Index fell 0.5 percent  from June 2009 to June 2010.

She’s asked the county’s unions to forgo the raises written into their contracts, but she said this morning time is running short to reach agreement on such concessions. She thinks it’s more likely the county can hold the line on wages in 2012.

But county employees have shouldered some of the burden of the recession, McCarthy said. For the first time in the county’s history, employees began paying a portion of their health-care premiums this year, she pointed out.

The proposed budget puts an emphasis on public safety, courts, prevention programs and economic development, McCarthy said.

“We’re managing through the economic recession, and we’re doing it in a smart way, a methodical way,” she added. “This is a manageable budget, but it’s not without pain.”

Now that the County Council has the 441-page budget document, it will begin its workshops and deliberations. Though the county executive proposes a budget, the council has the final say in the spending plan.

It’s expected to pass a 2011 budget in November.

Here’s the official news release from Pierce County Communications Director Hunter George.

News Release

Sept. 24, 2010

Executive’s budget proposal cuts spending 6.1%

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy submitted a 2011 budget proposal to the County Council this week that would reduce overall spending by 6.1 percent.

Despite the spending cuts, the Executive’s budget would maintain the County’s emphasis on public safety. In fact, the portion of the General Fund that’s dedicated to public safety would increase from 76.6 percent in 2010 to 78.5 percent in 2011.

“I will continue to prioritize budget cuts to minimize the impact on public safety and judicial services,” Executive McCarthy said. “I remain committed to promoting economic development as our staff works to retain and recruit businesses to Pierce County. And I propose strategic investments in parks, transportation and sewer and stormwater infrastructure that help support livable communities.

“The bottom line,” she added, “is this budget effectively manages our way through these difficult economic times.”

The Executive sent her budget proposal to the Council on Thursday, Sept. 23. She is scheduled to deliver her budget message to the Council during its 3 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, which can be viewed live on Pierce County TV or its website.

The seven-member Council expects to adopt a final budget in November.

Under the Executive’s proposal:

Total spending would drop $49.4 million, or 6.1 percent below 2010 levels, to $759.7 million. Most of the decrease can be attributed to a decline in federal and state grants and the reduction of capital project expenditures.

The County would cut 43 staff positions, bringing the total number of cuts through layoffs and attrition since 2008 to 459.

The General Fund – the account funded primarily by sales and property taxes and containing the most flexibility – would increase by just 0.4 percent.

The County would realize some efficiencies by closing two facilities in Tacoma – the old Puget Sound Hospital on Pacific Avenue and the District Court facility on Hosmer Street. Both facilities are inefficient and expensive to maintain and might be sold in the future due to the value of the land.

“The deep recession and sluggish recovery continue to present difficult challenges,” Executive McCarthy said.

“But those economic conditions also have inspired County managers and employees to push even harder for efficiencies. In some cases, we are going for a reset – a chance to stop doing something the old way just because we’ve always done it that way, or to seize an opportunity to combine resources and improve service delivery.”

One major project that’s under way is the merger of the departments of Community Services and Human Services. The Executive anticipates the combined departments will deliver better services to more people once the departments are fully integrated. In addition, a study of the feasibility of merging operations in Public Works and Utilities with Planning and Land Services is expected to be completed in spring 2011.

Executive McCarthy noted that every County department has cut expenses. Among other things, staff furloughs in various departments have saved the County a total of $1.3 million since 2009.

In the coming weeks, Executive McCarthy, her staff, department directors and the County’s other independently elected officials will appear at the Council’s budget hearings to review the spending proposals and revenue forecasts.

The Council’s hearings will be aired on Pierce County TV (channel 22 on Comcast and Click!, and channel 78 on Rainier Connect). The hearings also will be streamed live and archived at www.piercecountytv.org.

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