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Tacoma: Broadnax details collaborative budget process

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on May 23, 2012 at 10:38 am with No Comments »
May 23, 2012 10:39 am

City Manager T.C. Broadnax announced Tuesday he’ll take Tacoma’s 2013-14 general fund budget planning out of City Hall next month and into its neighborhoods, where he’ll seek to “demystify” the process and gather input about city spending priorities from the public.

“I’m hoping this will be a much more community-oriented process this year,” he said.

Broadnax unveiled his new budgeting approach during Tuesday’s City Council study session, during which he also briefed members about the still lingering $11 million shortfall facing the current budget.

Since he took office in February, Broadnax has held off making any more budget cuts this year until the city learns whether it will receive federal grants being sought to help stave off more than 50 potential layoffs to police and fire employees.

Word about whether the city will receive the fire grant should be known within a month and a half, he said. The police grant will be awarded by September.

“If we don’t get these grants, we’re going to have to resolve that issue,” Broadnax told the council Tuesday. “I can assure you, we will have a balanced budget by the end of the year.”

For the next city budget, Broadnax’s new collaborative approach will include a series of “community budget input meetings” in June and July, staged at various neighborhood and community group forums, he said.

Citizens will be informed about how Tacoma’s budget process works and how the city spends taxpayer money, he said. A questionnaire seeking to gauge the public’s spending priorities also will be distributed during the meetings and posted on the city’s website.

The process also will include more input up front from City Council members. Broadnax will begin seeking the council’s budget priorities next month through a survey he’s calling the “budget ballot of city services.”

He’ll ask members to rate elements of Tacoma’s core services by importance and task them with a spending exercise: Given only $10, members apply dollar amounts to the city’s main service areas to help develop spending priorities.

“Not that I’ll hold you to it,” Broadnax said, “but to give us some guidance and allow you to understand the difficult task that we’re going to have to go though.”

City staff will round out the budget feedback. In July, Broadnax will randomly select frontline employees from police, fire, public works and other major core service areas to participate in roundtable discussions and budget focus groups.

Broadnax said he’ll consider all of the feedback when ultimately drafting a budget plan to present to council in October. Then, he plans to stage a second round of community meetings, as well as broadcast a video on TV Tacoma, to explain what’s in his budget proposal and what isn’t.

After the council gets the proposal, it will hold a series of public workshops to review and revise the plan before adopting a final 2013-14 budget by year’s end.

Several council members praised Broadnax for his collaborative approach Tuesday.

“My compliments to you Mr. City Manager,’ Councilman Jake Fey said. “This is much more meaningful than what I’ve experienced over the years I’ve been on the council.”

City budget officials already project the 2013-14 general fund faces a $40 million shortfall under current spending levels.  Broadnax said Tuesday the plan he’ll ultimately propose will include “recurring (spending) cuts, not just one-time fixes” to help close the projected gap and make the city’s next budget sustainable going forward.


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