Like many cities across Washington, Tacoma is gearing up for a difficult budget season. The city is facing a $67 million shortfall. Many residents also are pushing new priorities, like reducing funding for the police department in favor of spending money elsewhere.
Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards has encouraged the public to get involved in the budget process. The city put out surveys and a new online tool that allowed people to build a budget.
A second version of the tool will be released in October, after the city council receives the city manager's budget recommendations.
KNKX Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick spoke with Woodards about what leaders have learned from these tools. Listen to their conversation above or read the transcript below. Both have been edited for length and clarity.
Kirsten Kendrick, KNKX: The city put out several surveys this summer to get input on the budget and some of the city's anti-racist work. What do you see in the results of those surveys?
Victoria Woodards, Mayor of Tacoma: So we're hearing a little bit of the defund the police movement. And we're also hearing, of course, that uptick in putting more money into human services and into uplifting our community. So that's what we're hearing initially. People want us to spend more money trying to improve the lives of members of our community.
KNKX: On that first pass of the budget tool that people were using, was there anything you learned from the input you got?
Woodards: There wasn't anything that surprised me, I'll say that. There was absolutely nothing that surprised me given the climate that we're in and how people are feeling because we hear from the public every day. We hear from them when they come to community forum, we get emails, phone calls, run into people with their masks on. But nothing in the results of the survey surprised me, at all, not even the defunding of the police.
KNKX: Has there been any consensus so far among the input you've received from the community regarding police funding as to a percentage of the department's budget that should be cut?
Woodards: So in the survey, the average cut in the police department was — they wanted to see the budget cut by almost 40 percent. But what I want remind everybody is that the survey is not the only way we hear from people, right? The survey is a tool for those who fill it out. And I'm grateful for everyone who completed it and took the time because it was not just answer three questions and move on. We had six different categories, so you had to go in depth into each category, and spend some time really helping to shape that budget. So, (I'm) grateful for the 5,000 people who logged on and the 800-plus people who actually completed all of the budget steps. But that's one tool that we use to make our decision.
KNKX: You said you weren't surprised by the responses you've been getting in the survey and the budget tool. What was not surprising?
Woodards: Well, obviously the defunding of police by 40 percent wasn't surprising. We've been hearing cries for that across the community. In health and social services, when we talked about homeless services, the average change was 74 percent. So they wanted an increase of 74 percent to the homeless services. Health and social services: They wanted an increase of almost 30 percent.
So not surprising, right? Not surprised because of what we're hearing on the streets. I mean, like in housing, they asked us to spend 419 percent more money. Given the outcry even before we got into COVID about the homeless situation in Tacoma, (I'm) not surprised because we've heard people continuously say fund more homelessness services. So that's what I mean by not surprised.
KNKX: Are you anticipating to ask any more in-depth questions or follow up questions regarding people's feelings around police funding?
Woodards: What it will be is it'll be the same budget tool, but the numbers will change in the budget tool. So the initial budget tool had our budget and told everybody, "Now balance the budget at a minus $67 million," right? So balance the budget and tell us how you would spend it. The next tool that will come out will go, "Here's our proposed budget. Change it around how you'd like it to be."