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Tacoma officials use online tool to help community engage in budget balancing

The City of Tacoma's budgeting tool, Balancing Act.
The City of Tacoma's budgeting tool, Balancing Act.

Amid nationwide calls to defund the police, Tacoma is calling on the public to show officials how it should be done. The city is facing a bigger deficit than it’s seen in years because of the coronavirus pandemic — more than $67 million, or about 15 percent overall.

It’s also in the midst of trying to transform the city government and its services through comprehensive anti-racism policies.

So, Tacoma officials have invited members of the public to try their hand using an interactive online tool. It’s called Balancing Act.

“I mean, obviously, this is not a fun activity to go through, trying to balance the budget in this kind of environment,” said Reid Bennion, an analyst with the city’s Office of Management and Budget. “And we're trying to give people a better understanding of all the services that we provide. And we want understand what are the ones that they value the most.”

The tool lays out the nearly $460 million budget in a pie chart that you can click on and adjust as you see fit.

“So they can go into each section and literally add or subtract dollars from different sections,” said Jacques Colon, Tacoma’s strategic manager.  

But they have to balance the budget to submit their answers, and prioritize different programs within community safety or housing or economic recovery, Colon says.

An interactive workshop about it takes place Friday at noon. Colon says he’ll be reminding people at the workshop that the city also just passed an anti-racism resolution, to transform the government and its services.

“So in terms of being able to get specific feedback from the community about what they value most and how they would spend their money,” Colon said. “It's incredibly valuable to see, you know, what defund the police actually means in practice to them.”

In the last workshop, attended by about 100 people, most slashed the police budget and added funding to housing and human services.

The input will go to the Tacoma City Council in early October. The budget will be finalized in November. If you can’t make the noontime session, you can still give input using Balancing Act until Monday.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.