Tacoma budget victims may include gang unit, jobs, two fire stations

From Me and My Family

By Bob L.
12/07/2011

From the Scrooges who want every one else to give till it hurts but won’t give them selves.

The last paragraph says “Anywhere we can find $100,000,is another police or fire job saved,” well they can start at the top, how about cutting off some of their pork, stop wasting money on unnecessary projects that don’t have any thing to do with safety, how about cutting public works that is over staffed, drive around and look at all the people holding up shovel and not using them, go to work for the private sector that only uses what they need to do the job, that way they are not paying people to stand around watching one or two working.

=====================================================

LEWIS KAMB Staff writer,  The News Tribune
Published:  12/06/11 | Updated: 12/07/11

Say goodbye to two fire stations and four neighborhood engine companies.

Sayonara to the gang unit, the school resources officers program and most  community liaison cops.

And so long to dozens of other city positions – from building inspectors to  municipal court clerks, office assistants and accountants.

All are on the chopping block, and all could be gone by year’s end.

For the first time Tuesday, interim City Manager Rey Arellano and his top  department heads publicly detailed which city jobs, services and programs face  elimination under a plan to close three-quarters of a projected $31 million  general fund budget shortfall.

“I wish I could tell you that we didn’t have to lay off anyone,” Arellano  said. “However, given the magnitude of the shortfall we’re facing, it just  wasn’t possible.”

Some 167 city employees face layoffs – about 11 percent of the 1,503 city  jobs paid for out of the general fund. Another 95 positions, mostly vacant, also  would be eliminated by January as part of a first round of cuts totaling about  $23 million.

Most of the proposed layoffs – 100 jobs in all – fall to the police and fire  departments, with the bulk of cuts targeting front-line responders.

Police would see 56 layoffs – 52 of them among some of the department’s least  senior officers who now patrol city streets.

Forty-four fire employees, 42 of them firefighters, would be cut.

The plan would eliminate four engine companies, one-quarter of the 16 now in  operation, leaving the remaining forces to pick up the slack for some 8,000 to  10,000 annual service calls now handled by the targeted companies.

It would also eliminate most specialized police squads, including a single  dog officer, the six-member gang unit, the six-member schools resources team, an  entire 10-officer traffic squad and 13 community liaison officers, shifting more  senior officers in those roles back to the streets.

“We’ll have less officers on the street, less visible police presence in our  community,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said. “We’ll have … slower response  times – not only to 911 calls but also to citizen complaints. And there’s a risk  to our officers’ safety, which is critical.”

Hours after Arellano revealed the budget details Tuesday, scores of the  city’s police officers, firefighters and supportive friends, relatives and  citizens, packed City Council chambers late Tuesday to insist that the council  look at alternatives to public safety cuts.

Some warned the proposed cuts would set Tacoma back decades, to a time when  gangs and drugs dominated the city’s core.

“We cannot allow our city to go back to the 1990s,” said Julie Swenson, a  Tacoma resident and business owner whose husband, Eric, is a city firefighter. “I cannot live in a downtown area filled with gangs, prostitutes and thugs.”

In his presentation, Arellano outlined the reasons for the proposed cuts,  noting city revenues are $19 million below target and expenses more than $12  million higher than expected through 2011’s third quarter. The result is a $31  million gap to the city’s $399 million general fund budget for 2011-12 – a  shortfall he said needs to be reckoned with as soon as possible to avoid even  deeper problems.

So as not to “overshoot” the necessary cuts, Arellano is pursuing a “75  percent strategy,” aiming to start with a first round of cuts to close $23  million of the gap by year’end. Early next year, city officials will determine  if even more cuts will be needed.

The cuts proposed Tuesday are spread across most city departments, with a  strategy to “front-load” reductions onto non-police and fire employees, so as to  spare as many of those jobs as possible, Arellano said.

For instance, while police and fire make up 38 percent and 32 percent of the  entire general fund respectively, they account for just 23 percent and 21  percent of all cuts, Arellano said. Other departments face proportionately  higher cuts. For instance, the public works department – about 10 percent of the  general fund – would take 16 percent of the prospective cuts.

“This is what the council has recommended – to try to make fewer cuts to  police and fire by putting the brunt on the cuts on other departments,” Councilwoman Lauren Walker said.

But the city’s rank-and-file police and fire unions aren’t buying Arellano’s  figures.

“We don’t believe the numbers,” said Det. Terry Krause, president of Tacoma  Police Union Local 6. “All we’ve ever said is, don’t base these cuts only on the  3rd quarter.

Some officers and firefighters claim the city has time to wait until the  latest revenue figures come in early next year before approving any cuts.

“The sky isn’t falling,” said fire Lt. John McAuliffe. “We don’t need to  govern like our hair is on fire.”

But if the projections hold true, city officials have said, the longer you  put off cuts, the deeper they must be.

The cuts proposed Tuesday already are deep. Those proposed for the police  department would lop off $4.9 million of a $59 million budget – about 8 percent,  in all. The now three-bureau department would be streamlined into two, with  investigations merging into administrative.

In all, 82 commissioned officers would be lost. Along with the 56 layoffs, 23  vacant positions would be zapped and three other positions moved to another  department.

To backfill for 43 frontline positions targeted for cuts means that most  specialized police units and proactive programs must be eliminated. Among the  programs targeted is the school resources officers program, begun after a  student was killed in Foss High School in 2007.

“We’ll be moving away from community based, proactive model of policing to a  more reactive model,” Ramsdell said.

The fire department would take $4.5 million in cuts from its $48.7 million  budget. Stations No. 6, in Tacoma’s Tideflats, and No.13 – the beloved, more  than a century-old stationhouse in the Proctor District, are slated for  closure.

The city’s fire boat services, which operate out of Station No. 6, would be “eliminated, for all intents and purposes,” said Fire Chief Ron Stephens, adding  that the department’s 70-foot boat will remain moored there, but would be called  into service only for major fires.

Two other Stations – No. 4 and No 11 – will lose their engine companies, but  remain operating to provide emergency medical services.

Stephens said he didn’t come to his decisions until Monday night, basing them  primarily on service calls, locations and other statistics.

Some of the other cuts proposed Tuesday include 15 layoffs in public works,  including six people who primarily respond to citizen complaints about code  enforcement issues and nuisances; five employees in the economic development  department’s permit center, and seven jobs in Tacoma Municipal Court.

Layoff numbers could change. Arellano said discussions continue with unions,  and police and fire employees still have until Dec. 15 to take retirement  offers.

The council, which is also considering several revenue-generating strategies,  has set a special budget meeting for Dec. 20 to adopt a final plan.

“Anywhere we can find $100,000,is another police or fire job saved,” Mayor  Marilyn Strickland said.

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