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Tacoma: City Manager T.C. Broadnax warns city employees to expect “dramatic” budget cuts; sources say 200 layoffs planned

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
September 13, 2012 5:57 pm

In an email sent to city employees on Wednesday, Tacoma City Manager T.C. Broadnax warned of taking “dramatic steps” to city staffing and service levels in the 2013-14 budget proposal he’ll unveil early next month.

Broadnax’s email doesn’t cite specific numbers, but three city sources  separately confirmed this week he is targeting cuts to 200 city jobs.

“Tacoma’s financial challenges are substantial,” Broadnax said in Wednesday’s email. “The City continues to face severe budget challenges, which will be extremely difficult for all involved and requires a resetting of expectations for the future.  We must submit a balanced budget and to do so must take dramatic steps, including the elimination of more positions and in some cases a reduction in services.”

Reached by phone Thursday, city spokeswoman Gwen Schuler said she was unable to immediately speak with a reporter about potential budget cuts.

Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey said Wednesday he doesn’t know how many positions Broadnax might be targeting in his budget plan. Asked if the 200 figure seemed outlandish, Fey responded: “How could there not be substantial layoffs? We’re facing a $60 million gap, right?”

Fey noted that the city’s talks about employee concessions remain ongoing with labor unions.  Such discussions could affect any final number for job reductions that would be included in Broadnax’s budget proposal.

“Concessions save jobs, retirements save jobs,” Fey said.

Alice Phillips, chairwoman of the Tacoma Joint Labor Committee, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

The city’s Human Resources Department also recently has offered to eligible employees a $12,000 buy-out incentive to retire.

“If we can encourage those who are eligible to retire, hopefully that will save jobs,” Councilman Ryan Mello said Thursday.

The city made the same offer to employees amid a 2011-12 budget crisis.  After 167 city employees were notified in December that their jobs were in jeopardy, at least 58 employees took the buyout and retired on Jan. 1.

In June, city budget officials publicly presented a grim budget forecast to the council that projected a $60 to $65 million shortfall for the 2013-14 general fund — the spending plan that pays for basic city services, such as police, fire, library and streets maintenance.  About 70 percent of the budget’s costs involve paying pay and benefits for some 2,300 general government employees.

During his budget planning, Broadnax has sought advice from the general public and city employees on general fund spending priorities. He also has asked each director of a city department to provide him with a plan to cut spending by 15 percent in their respective departments.  Broadnax is expected to present his budget plan to the City Council on Oct. 2.

Councilwoman Lauren Walker said Thursday she hadn’t yet read Broadnax’s email, nor did she know specifics of his forthcoming budget plan.

“These are hard times and we will all get through this to the best of our abilities,”  Walker said.

Here is the full email Broadnax sent to employees on Wednesday:

As many of you know, our City organization is faced with the task of
balancing a 2013-2014 General Fund budget deficit of more than $60 million.
Throughout my meetings with the City Council and the community, I have
shared a “Back to Basics” foundation that includes focusing on City core
services, continuous improvement through service efficiencies and
credibility in providing municipal government transparency.  I want to take
this opportunity to give you an update of where the City’s budget stands for
the current biennium and what lies ahead.

Recovery from the recession has been slower than anticipated for Tacoma and
cities across the state of Washington.  The City has acted to address a gap
between revenues and expenditures for the current biennium (2011-2012) in
the General Fund.

As part of the Phase 1 budget reduction strategy, the City was forced to
eliminate several positions and reduce maintenance and operating costs.
Many employees saw pay freezes, and temporary pay reductions were imposed on
non-represented employees.  Through the combined efforts of staff and City
Council we have identified options for balancing the 2011-2012 Biennial
Budget by year end.

On October 2, I will present the 2013-2014 Proposed Biennial Budget to City
Council.  Our greatest challenge we face is continuing to provide the
quality services our residents depend on each day.  The harsh reality is we
cannot sustain current levels of service or current levels of staffing in
the future.  Going forward, it is imperative that we be pragmatic and honest
about what we can and cannot do, what is possible and how we need to
prioritize our resources in order to best serve the community.

You have heard this message before, but it bears repeating.  Tacoma’s
financial challenges are substantial.  The City continues to face severe
budget challenges, which will be extremely difficult for all involved and
requires a resetting of expectations for the future.  We must submit a
balanced budget and to do so must take dramatic steps, including the
elimination of more positions and in some cases a reduction in services.  In
the next several weeks, you will hear from your department directors and/or
managers about the proposed impacts to your departments.

The work you put forth each day does not go unnoticed.  I want to
acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of our employees who have put
tremendous effort into helping us address the challenges facing Tacoma.  I
honestly believe that we will emerge from this stronger and more resilient.

In the Spirit of Excellence!!
T.C. Broadnax
City Manager

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