Layoffs, budget cuts as Tacoma struggles with pandemic shortfall

SEATTLE – Pierce County’s largest city is already feeling the crunch of this pandemic.

Tacoma’s city leaders are scrambling to fill a $40 million hole in their budget thanks to the economic shutdown.

The impacts could last for years and 150 employees have already been laid off.

The good news, the city manager says the $40 million shortfall has already been cut by $28 million.

The city’s managers and executives pay will be cut but that won’t be enough. Laid off employees were told the work stoppage could last for twelve weeks.

“Considering retiring soon,” said Charleen Kenyon who worked 35 years for the city.

Kenyon almost made it but fast-spreading coronavirus took her off the payroll before she could clock-out for good.

“Things are going to change and that’s the way things are going to be for however how long it’s going to take,” she said.

Kenyon was one of the first of 150 city employees laid off beginning Monday and even more could be announced next week.

City council now meets from a distance as they tighten budgets.

The city’s executive teams will take an 11 percent pay cut, department heads volunteered a 3 percent cut.

Rank and file layoffs come from eight city departments. Hiring freezes, cancelled projects and savings could also help fill the gap.

The stay at home order means more than 20,000 seats inside the Tacoma Dome can’t generate money.

Kenyon said she loved working there.

“We’re not going to have big summer-time concerts or gatherings,” she said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

In late February when a state basketball tournament coincided with a growing pandemic, Kenyon says she didn’t know anything about social distancing back then.

Now that she’s close to retirement, she wonders if her temporary layoff might become permanent.

“I think it’s all going to change,” she said.

The planned layoffs are for now only temporary, but city leaders say they have to begin cutting the 2021 budget now to cut expense.