County Council leans toward conservative budget adjustments

Budgetary considerations were the focus of the last Pierce County Council meeting before Thanksgiving, although nothing was finalized at the Nov. 24 gathering.

The council tackled adjusting the 2020-2021 biennial budget with an eye toward prioritizing a revenue-neutral position that doesn’t depend on reserve funds at the meeting.

“Given where we are with the economy, we want to make sure we’re fiscally cautious as we enter the second year of the budget,” Council Chairman Doug Richardson said in a news release. “We are not going to put ourselves in a position where we are spending down available funds when we could be facing a potential revenue downturn in 2021.”

The council passed a slew of amendments to the mid-biennium adjustment, making minor changes to the already approved 2020-21 budget, including the areas of public safety, human services and parks.

Reflecting the reality of the ongoing pandemic, one of the amendments provides $4 million in funding to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for COVID-19-related activities should additional federal or state funding not become available next year.

The council adopted the $2.4 million biennial budget at the end of 2019, approving spending and estimating revenue collection for two years. As required by law, the council must provide a mid-biennium review and modification for the second year of the budget.

The council proposed dedicating $1.75 million for the purchase of body and/or dash cameras for Pierce County Sheriff’s Department deputies as part of the mid-biennium adjustment. An additional $230,000 is designated for release in July to fund six new staff positions to assist with the public records aspect of the program.

Also proposed by the council is $1.36 million for the Medical Examiner’s Office in an ongoing effort to equip the office with modern-day technology. Most of the money will go to the purchase of a new X-ray machine and CT scanner.

The council voted to roll all of the approved amendments into the ordinance — now designated Proposal No. 2020-120s2 — and to continue considering the legislation at its regular Dec. 8 meeting.

In another budget-related matter considered earlier in the meeting, the council discussed Proposal No. 2020-132, an emergency supplemental budget ordinance dealing directly with the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The county received nearly $158 million via the CARES Act, which runs out on Dec. 30. The emergency ordinance approves up to $4.17 million from the federal money to the Tacoma Fire Department for reimbursable costs related to COVID-19.

“The purpose of this is to essentially deal with funding needs of our first responders, who like front-line medical workers … we’ve all been relying on in this COVID pandemic,” Councilmember Derek Young said. “We’ve got to try to help where we can.” 

The council continued discussion on the emergency ordinance at its regular Dec. 1 meeting.


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