By Pat Jenkins Money for more police and other law enforcement efforts are included in Pierce County's budget for 2017. Not part of the budget – at least not yet – is a proposed sales tax increase to pay for countywide mental health services. The County Council put off a decision on the tax question until December but approved the rest of the budget Nov. 29. County Executive Pat McCarthy, in her final budget proposal before leaving office at the end of this year, urged the council to raise the county's local sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent and earmark the resulting revenue for mental health and related homeless programs, as allowed by state law. The increase, if eventually authorized by the council, would generate an estimated $10 million a year. Exact plans for spending the money haven't been revealed, although McCarthy has called for a community engagement coordinator and seven behavioral health workers, the latter employed on a contract basis, to work directly with Sheriff Department officers on mental health-related incidents. One of McCarthy's chief requests for next year – funding for five additional sheriff deputies –is in the budget that was approved unanimously by council members. That's part of a budget focus on public safety and courts. Funding priorities includes: • $225,000 that will be added to drug enforcement and treatment programs. • Matching grant money for a deputy prosecutor to handle identity-theft cases. • $110,000 in additional funds for the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, which works on domestic violence issues. Other 2017 budget highlights include: Other budget highlights, according to council members, include funding to help with the cost of tearing down and removing the former Puget Sound Hospital buildings on county-owned property in Tacoma. The site is scheduled to become the location of a voter-approved, new communications center for South Sound 9-1-1, the regional emergency communications agency. In November, the council agreed to apply $2.7 million in county funds to the demolition costs. That action followed a decision in September by the South Sound 9-1-1 board to loan as much as $2.6 million to the county for the demolition expense. A $297.6 million general fund – the part of the 2017 budget that covers basic public services -- that the council approved is virtually dollar-for-dollar what McCarthy requested. The largest part of it is the $69.8 million earmarked for the Sheriff Department, plus another $52 million for the county jail that is operated by the sheriff. The prosecutor's office part of the general fund is $30.7 million. The overall budget also includes revenue that will come from a higher development impact fee for parks. The increase, which the council last month approved effective mid-2017, is expected to generate $51 million over the next 15 years to help the county parks system keep up with demand for recreation space and facilities. McCarthy won't be around to oversee county spending next year. She couldn’t run for re-election last month because she’s in the final year of the maximum of eight years that the county charter allows a county executive to serve. Instead, she ran for and was elected state auditor.
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