Tacoma City Council adopted its two-year $4.3 billion budget Nov. 22, filling a nearly $24 million deficit in doing so.
To address the shortfall, council members approved an increase to business license fees and imposed a tax on trash bills. The city also will defer some maintenance and delay filling vacant positions.
Council passed the budget unanimously.
“The Council is united in its support for this budget and committed to responding to the challenges of our community with equity and compassion and show our residents that a vibrant and livable Tacoma is not an afterthought, but a value for us,” Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a news release.
The biggest recipient from the city’s general fund is public safety, with $215.5 million for the Tacoma Police Department and $245.12 million for the Tacoma Fire Department. The two make up about 60% of the city’s general fund.
For the Police Department’s budget, $147 million is for personnel, an increase from $124 million in the current biennium. Five new positions are budgeted for in 2023-2024. It also includes $1.1 million to increase forensic staffing to provide 24/7 coverage for crime-scene services, $75,000 for employee wellness to increase an existing psychologist contract, $600,000 to replace outdated unmarked vehicles, $365,000 to increase the equipment and training budget, and $494,000 in new recruit costs for academy and in new equipment and uniforms.
For the Fire Department’s budget, $186.6 million is for personnel, an increase from $165 million in the 2021-2022 biennium. Four positions will be added in 2023-2024. In TFD’s budget, $5.9 million is for fire fleet replacement for three fire engines, nine transport units, a mobile air unit and eight secondary responses. Its budget also includes $842,000 for an alternative response team, $550,000 to adjust EMS staffing, $170,000 for mental health service expansion and 180,000 for on-site renewable diesel.
Tacoma residents called for $2 million toward an alternative mental health response team, but the council said it would look at providing additional funding in the spring from American Rescue Plan Act money.
At the Nov. 15 council meeting, several residents said the city needed safer public transit and better infrastructure to commute around Tacoma without a car. Council member Kristina Walker, at-large, proposed a motion, which was approved by council, to provide up to $500,000 of American Rescue Plan Act savings for additional non-motorized bike and/or pedestrian projects.
The budget included $4.5 million for improvements for pedestrians and Vision Zero, a commitment to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2035, and $3.6 million for maintenance projects, such as unfit and unsafe sidewalk funding, increased pedestrian beacons maintenance funding and trail maintenance funding.
In homeless services, the budget is $34 million to go toward adding two employees to the Homeless Engagement and Alternatives Liaison Team, maintaining and expanding emergency and temporary shelter capacity and expanding Tacoma Rescue Mission men’s shelter project and TRM’s shelter project operating costs. The city plans to stand up 150 shelter beds and add 120 affordable housing units in the next two years.
Addressing the city’s budget deficit
The council approved business license fee increases that will go into effect Jan. 1 , which are
$25 will remain for businesses that have a gross yearly income of less than $12,000.
$130 for businesses with a gross income between $12,000 and $250,000.
$300 for businesses with a gross income between $250,000 and $1 million.
$1,000 for businesses with a gross income between $1 million and $5 million.
$1,500 for business with a gross income more than $5 million.
The council also voted to raise business license fees again in 2024 and use that additional funding to provide resources for the business community, which will be later decided.
The 6 percent excise tax on customers’ solid waste bills was also passed by council. Customers will see a $3 per month for a 60-gallon container tax on their bills beginning April. The tax’s revenue would be used for clean-up for removed encampments and litter and debris response in active encampment and create a dedicated litter crew.