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City Manager: Tacoma Building Back After Deep Budget Cuts

"Tacoma Dome" by Eric Kilby. Licensed by CC by 2.0.

Four years ago, Tacoma City leaders gazed into a $60 million budget hole and cut 200 jobs through layoffs, early retirements, and by leaving vacancies unfilled.

Now an improving economy could allow the city to restore some of its police force and even fix up the Tacoma Dome. 

City Manager T.C. Broadnax in a 2017-2018 budget proposal unveiled Oct. 4, called for the hiring of 17 police employees, including 13 sworn officers. Seven of them would be assigned to a special anti-violence squad. 

It also includes $20 million in upgrades to the Tacoma Dome. 

Those investments are possible in part because the soaring regional economy is lifting Tacoma. Broadnax said his staff projects rising tax revenues in the coming years. He's also proposing higher licensing fees for animals and some businesses. 

Broadnax said it's an "opportunity to put back into play many of the things that we might have lost or had to reduce four years ago." The $460 million general fund budget proposal is about $35 million more than the current 2015-2016 budget.

But he cautioned that new spending is only appropriate when it's "strategic" and when "we can see through and continue to fund this positions" in future budgets.

Broadnax's proposal also includes about $4 million in new spending for programs to address the region's homelessness crisis. That includes $825,000 to clear encampments where homeless people live and make those sites less attractive to campers. 

"We're going to go out and clean up about 30 of our largest encampments this year and then look to repurpose that land to make it much more community beneficial, whether that's through plantings or other things," he said, adding the encampments "create problems in our surrounding business district." 

The Tacoma City Council has budget meetings scheduled over the next several weeks and could vote on the spending plan in November. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.