City honors JBLM, clears budget for approval

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The Tacoma City Council meeting was short and to the point, being that it was election night.

Two interesting factoids came to light on the eve of Veterans Day celebrations next week. One fact was that more than 20 percent of the city’s employees are veterans. The other is that a third of the current City Council members served in the military. Mayor Victoria Woodards served in the Army. Catherine Ushka and Robert Thoms served in the Navy Reserves. Thoms just recently returned from a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.

Woodards proclaimed next week, Nov. 11 to Nov. 17, as Joint Base Lewis-McChord week. The base generates $9 billion in economic activity around the South Sound and is the county’s largest employer.

“There is no part of our community that is not touched positively by the people who serve,” Thoms said.

The meeting was also the final public hearing for the city’s proposed biennial budget, which is set for a final presentation on Nov. 13 and adoption on Nov. 20.

The city’s $515 million general fund covers the basic functions and services of city government, with most of it being spent on public safety.

The city is set to spend $175.5 million on police in 2019 and 2020, an increase of about $1 million for the addition of five officers to bring the Tacoma Police Department up to about 358 officers. The department had an employment high of 398 before the great recession a decade ago. One looming issue is that the department faces a brain drain with many of the mass hirings of the 1990s topping out on their seniority.

“Those officers are getting to the point where they’re retiring,” Police Chief Don Ramsdell said, noting that the department has about 20 vacancies.

The Tacoma Fire Department makes up about 24 percent of the general fund budget, at $125.2 million in spending. It will receive two new fire engines under the budget being proposed.

The city’s funding for affordable housing and homelessness services such at the Stability Site along Puyallup Avenue will stay at about $6 million, including an Affordable Housing Trust Fund of $1.2 million.

More information about the process can be found at www.cityoftacoma.org/budget.

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