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Tacoma: City preparing for second wave of budget cuts

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Jan. 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
January 24, 2012 3:52 pm

With the City Council expected to vote on a new contract with Tacoma’s police union tonight that could help spare more than 50 police jobs,  the city is now preparing for a second wave of budget cuts likely to include even more layoffs.

Where those layoffs and other budget cuts will come from remains to be seen.  But after a first round of cuts, Interim City Manager Rey Arellano told the City Council today that the city still needs to trim another $16 million by March 31.

“It’s likely there will be more layoffs,” city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff added after today’s budget presentation.  “Essentially, what we’ll be doing is going back to all the departments that participated in the first round of cuts — and going back to them for more.”

During Arellano’s update today, he estimated the city so far has saved about $17 million of a projected $33 million shortfall in the city’s 2011-12 general fund.  The savings include about $14.6 million realized from layoffs, retirements, pay reductions and other cuts, and about $2.4 million in newly approved city revenue enhancements (increased business license fees, false alarm and traffic camera fines) and reductions to the council’s contingency fund.

Arellano tentatively plans to present to council a formal proposal for the second round of  budget cuts on March. 6

The latest estimates of savings made so far don’t include about $1.5 million anticipated from concessions offered by Tacoma Police Union Local 6 or an undisclosed amount of potential concessions that could come from Tacoma’s fire union. The police union’s concessions, which are contemplated as part of a new three-year collective bargaining agreement, are expected to be discussed at tonight’s council meeting.

The police concessions are largely based on more than 330 officers deferring a 3.6 cost-of-living pay hike in 2012.  The union would get at least that much of pay raise in 2013, and could get more depending on the market pay of five comparable police agencies.

But, in all, the deferred raises are expected to save about $1.2 million this year.  Combined with additional police concessions to other wage and deferred compensation benefits, the city would save about $1.5 million.

The police concessions come with a condition:  If the city makes any police layoffs at any time before year’s end, Tacoma must immediately pay the officers their 3.6 percent pay hike and a pro-rated payment of one percent retroactive pay.

“That’s not intended to take away the city’s tool of making layoffs,” said Christopher Tracy, the police union’s vice president. “It’s intended as a safeguard to ensure that the city will have a conversation with us before moving ahead to make any (police layoffs).”

The tentative agreement for police concessions also stipulates that if any police layoffs are forthcoming as part of more budget cuts, the city would immediately begin negotiations with the union about ways to avoid them or mitigate their impacts.

Tacoma’s fire union is set to separately vote on a similar concessions offer later this week that seeks to avert 44 proposed layoffs of firefighters.

During Tuesday’s update from Arellano, the council also discussed a variety of grim options for cutting costs to more than 130 external services contracts that collectively cost the city about $10.3 million.  More than $6 million worth of the contracts fund outside human service agencies and the services they provide.

“All of these agencies do really good work,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said. “… It’s going to be painful, but this is something we have to do. We can’t drag this out.”

The council agreed to seek a general target for 10 percent of reductions, but will weigh each contract on a case-by-case basis.

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