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Tag: Pierce County budget


Pierce County faces $6 million budget hole

Pierce County faces a $6 million budget hole as the worst recession in decades continues to take a toll on county revenue.

County Executive Pat McCarthy has directed most general fund departments to cut spending 1 percent to partially fill the budget gap. The county also might rely on fund balances and other savings to balance the budget.

But bigger spending cuts may be needed.

“The sooner you do it, the less dramatic it has to be,” budget director Pat Kenney told the County Council at a study session this afternoon.

It’s the latest bad budget news for a county that has seen plenty in the last year.

In 2009 the county endured several rounds of budget cuts. Most recently, the council in November approved a $793 million 2010 budget that cut more than 300 jobs, raised fees and eliminated services at 16 parks.

This year’s budget is already 7 percent smaller than the original 2009 spending plan. Now it likely will be reduced further.

In a memo to department heads and elected officials last week, Kenney directed most general fund departments to cut 1 percent from their budgets. The general fund covers basic county services like law enforcement, courts, and elections.

The sheriff’s department – a top priority for elected officials – has not been asked to cut its budget. But McCarthy told the council that may change as the county’s financial situation becomes clearer.

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Exec orders 1 percent cut to Pierce County budget

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has ordered a 1 percent across-the-board spending cut as the worst recession in decades continues to take a toll on county revenue.

McCarthy’s budget director, Pat Kenney, ordered the cut in general fund departments in a memo to department heads and elected officials Thursday. Kenney said “the impact of the recession upon our revenues (development activity, sales tax, police service contracts, etc.) is still quite negative.”

The move follows a series or spending cuts in 2009. And McCarthy isn’t ruling out more cuts later this year.

You can download a PDF copy of Kenney’s memo

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Pierce County consolidation report due next month

What could be a major consolidation of Pierce County government may start to take shape next month, county officials say.

First up: a possible consolidation of the county’s human services and community services departments.

A committee studying the issue will make a recommendation on what to do about those departments by the end of February, Deputy County Executive Kevin Phelps told the County Council Tuesday.

The committee may or may not recommend combining human and community services. But consolidation will be a significant theme this year as Pierce County searches for efficiencies at a time of declining revenue.

Last fall County Executive Pat McCarthy requested a report on the feasibility of consolidating the human services and community services departments. The council requested reports on consolidating planning and land services into public works and utilities. And it asked McCarthy to study combining five other departments – human resources, budget and finance, facilities, risk management and information technology – into a new “general services division.”

County officials see human and community services as an obvious place to start discussions of consolidating county departments. The two departments have been combined in the past.

Human services includes services like chemical dependency, mental health and long-term care. Community services covers everything from arts and tourism to homeless assistance and low-income housing.

Phelps and McCarthy gave the County Council an update on consolidation talks at a council study session Tuesday.

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Pierce County auditor to close six days this year for furloughs

The Pierce County Auditor’s Office is the latest department to announce closures because of employee furloughs.

The office will close for six days this year because of budget cuts. Other departments – including the planning department and District Court – undertook employee furloughs last year.

Here’s the announcement on the auditor furloughs:

Due to sharp and sustained drops in revenue, Pierce County has cut its budget.

The Auditor’s Office will close for six business days in 2010, and send staff home without pay. This practice is often referred to as “furlough.”

The Auditor’s Office operates

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Pierce County: A year of political skirmishes

Think Pierce County’s elected officials have been fighting lately? You’re wrong. They’ve been at it all year.

As 2009 draws to a close, I’ve been reviewing a year’s worth of political skirmishes in Pierce County government. The bottom line: at times it’s seemed that everyone is fighting with everyone else.

A rookie executive has feuded with a veteran County Council.

The council and executive have criticized Superior Court judges.

The judges have threatened to sue the executive and council.

The prosecutor has accused the council of overstepping its authority.

The assessor-treasurer has decried the council and executive.

So what’s going on? That’s the question I’m trying to answer in an upcoming article.

There are several answers. First, there are inherent tensions among the various branches of government. The county charter, for example, pits the executive against the council, giving the exec control of departments and contracts and the council authority over the budget and policy decisions.

But there’s more going on here than the push and pull of good government. Tough circumstances – i.e., a year of budget cutting – also have played a role.

So have politics and personalities. How much? Judge for yourself. Below is a recap of this year’s political tug of war.

I think it’s fair to say it’s incomplete. These are just the punches that were thrown in public. At other times, the tensions simmered in private.

Read on and pass along your thoughts.

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Pierce council asks Gregoire not to fill Superior Court seat

Updated below with more comment from the governor’s office

The Pierce County Council has asked Gov. Chris Gregoire not to fill the Superior Court seat recently vacated by Judge Michael Hecht.

In a letter dated Monday, the council lays out its legal argument that its decision to eliminate the court seat is legal, despite arguments to the contrary by the local prosecuting attorney’s office, County Executive Pat McCarthy and the local bar association.

In the letter (you can download a PDF copy here), council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, quotes a state law authorizing Pierce County to have no more than 24 Superior Court judges. Bush argues that the law gives the council discretion to determine the exact number of positions.

“The decision to authorize a judicial position must take into account the county’s need as well as its ability to fund that position,” Bush wrote (the salaries of Superior Court judges are split between the county and the state).

“The question is whether the state legislature, in recognizing and granting the authority to local legislative bodies to authorize new judicial positions, intended that such decision would be irreversible, that it would remain in place in perpetuity,” he wrote. “We believe that was not the intent…”

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McCarthy shuns veto, approves County Council’s budget

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy has elected not to veto the County Council’s proposed 2010 budget despite concerns that it cuts too deeply.

McCarthy notified the council this morning that she had signed several ordinances related to next year’s budget.

Pat McCarthy
Pat McCarthy

Despite signing the ordinances, McCarthy renewed her objection to the council’s steep cuts to the planning department, which will lose about two dozen positions next year.

“I am concerned that the additional cuts made by the County Council could cause unreasonable backlogs for our citizens,” McCarthy wrote to the council. “I believe it is imperative that we have staffing levels that will help with timely, predictable processing of building permits.”

McCarthy has proposed a deal that would allow the planning department to rehire some employees if the local real estate market picks up and the department needs more people to process building permits. One issue that must be decided is what level of increased activity would “trigger” rehiring staff.

“I am hopeful that we can reach agreement on trigger language that would allow us to allocate additional resources to (the planning department) during 2010,” McCarthy wrote. “This would be conditioned on (department) revenues exceeding 2010 projections.”

You can download a PDF copy of McCarthy’s letter here.

Last month the council unanimously approved a $269.3 million general fund budget that is 7 percent smaller than the 2009 budget approved a year ago. The 2010 budget would cut more than 300 jobs, eliminate services at 16 parks and otherwise cut spending.

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Should Pierce County cut or keep Hecht’s Superior Court seat?

Today we’ll learn the fate of Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht. He’s scheduled to be sentenced for felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute.

But the fate of Hecht’s seat on the bench is less certain.

The County Council recently voted to eliminate Hecht’s post, citing the need for flexibility in a time of tough budgets. The prosecuting attorney’s office cried foul. County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the move. And the local bar association is threatening to sue the council.

So far, the council isn’t backing down. Which leads me to ask: what do

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