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Tacomans offer ideas on how to prevent crippling loss of 56 cops

Tacomans are staring into a new year of 56 fewer cops to protect and serve them, thanks to a $31 million budget shortfall.

The cuts will gut or eliminate some of the police department’s highest-profile programs: community policing, officers in high schools, the gang unit and half the traffic squad.

Many of those old enough to remember the violent 1980s have seen how innovative cops have made the city safer. They want to keep them. (They want their firefighters, too, but that’s 44 jobs cut in another budget, a story for another day.)

Civilian budget wonks say they saw the shortfall coming long before it went public last month. They warned that money spent on travel, things, studies and pay raises in a recession would be missed later. They were right.

Without the budget-balancing convenience of time travel, they, like those who were stunned by the proposed cuts, are left to brainstorm ways to save public-safety jobs.

At last week’s Dome Top Neighborhood Alliance meeting, one of those wonks pulled out his calculator. With about 199,000 Tacomans and a $5,412,000 hole in the Police Department’s budget, it would cost about $25 per person to save all 56 police jobs. He had his ready to put in the pot.

At the same meeting, Teri Wood suggested adding digits to the $95 fines on landlords who don’t keep their property up to code. Hike them high enough to make it too expensive to trash neighborhoods with substandard properties. Make it hurt enough to fund a cop if they still don’t clean up.

Steven Garrett, responding to a Facebook invitation to share solutions, saw shared pain as a solution.

“A small, sliding-scale, temporary (two years), across-the-board pay cut will eliminate the need for any personnel cuts,” he wrote. “I do not have all the budget figures to know exactly what those cuts would be, but last year most of the staff received cost-of-living raises which totaled, as I recall, $12.5 million. The budget deficit is $31 million. So this is doable.”

That would include fire and police union members deciding whether to take pay or benefits cuts if it will save colleagues’ jobs.

Karen Jeffery wants the city to think cheap at every level.

“We have to acquire a thrift-store mentality,” she wrote in a letter to council members. “I worked for the state’s Surplus Programs for many years and they have an abundance of goods. Why buy new 3-ring binders for $2.99 when you can buy them for 25 cents? Why spend $300 for office desks when you can purchase a used one for $15? … Schools and churches have been savvy enough to do this, but I never saw the City of Tacoma buying there.”

Skip the bottled water at city events, she added, and go with water coolers. Cut per diem pay to the deli sandwich level.

Scott Ramsey wants to track down elusive revenue.

“Enforce current requirements for business licenses for any company doing business in Tacoma whether based here or not,” he wrote on Facebook. “The licenses aren’t a revenue generator, but the associated BO taxes are.”

While we’re on taxes, City Councilman and Tacoma business owner Marty Campbell urges people to shop in Tacoma, and leave part of their sales tax in the city.

Campbell said the council is considering asking other entities to help fund cops. The Tacoma School District might be able to pay more for officers based in high schools. The Tacoma Housing Authority might support a Community Liaison Officer serving Salishan.

But wait, there’s more.

The city bought a chunk of Hillside property between Tacoma Avenue South and Fawcett for a new police headquarters, which it built elsewhere. Stop saving the Hillside property for some dreamy use. If there’s a buyer out there with a good offer, make a deal.

And city travel? It should be as impossible as time travel. Skip conferences, tune in to webinars. Mine the Internet, not convention centers, for good ideas.

The people the city serves are saying they want their cops, firefighters, code-enforcement officers and pothole fillers back. Stay here, and figure out how to make it so.

Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677

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