By Pat Jenkins
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier got his wish for a consolidation of two major county agencies, but not without opposition from fans of keeping them separate.
Following his election last November, Dammeier laid out a plan for reorganizing parts of county government. That included combining the Planning and Land Services Department (PALS) and the Public Works Departmentinto a single agency, which the County Council rubber-stamped.
Such consolidations "improve services to the public and save money," Dammeier said. In the case of the new Planning and Public Works Department, the process of getting various building and land-use permits is streamlined, according to proponents.
While council members unanimously approved the reorganization, several citizens questioned it during a public hearing. Two citizens asked for more time to study any ramifications of department consolidations. A third opposed the merging of Public Works and Planning, agreeing that there is “some overlap” of their functions but not enough tojustify having one under the other.
Richard Thurston, a Spanaway resident, said it's a “mistake” to have planners or public works personnel overseeing duties in which they aren't specifically trained.
Thurston served on the elected county Charter Review Commission that studied county government last year. He also is a former member of the Planning Commission, an appointed advisory panel of citizens that works closely with planning officials when reviewing zoning codes and land-use regulations and making recommendations to the council.
Dennis Hanberg, previously the director of PALS, is now heading the consolidated departments and their 768 employees.
Hanberg said professional engineers who already were part of the PALS staff will oversee public works, which was led previously by an engineer.
Cindy Beckett, another citizen with concerns about the consolidation, said Public Works did a "stellar job" of maintaining roads and should remain separate "in order to continue the strong record of roadwork on behalf of the public."
The combined duties of Planning and Public Works include zoning regulations, long-range planning, historic preservation, and county compliance with the state’s Environmental Policy Act and Shoreline Management Act.
Other parts of Dammeier's reorganization include folding the risk mangement and information technology services into the finance department, and renaming the Community Connection Department as the Human Services Department to increase public understanding of its functions.
Dammeier's top aide, chief operating officer Dan Grimm, said the changes are the result of a review of departments and their duties. He said the result will be better efficienicy and “quality of service” to the public, plus taking "full advantage of the talents” of the consolidated departments’ leaders (Hanberg and finance director Gary Robinson).
Councilman Derek Young welcomed efforts to smooth the public's interaction with county services.
“It's important to remove the kinks” caused by citizens being routed to various offices and agencies, Young said.
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