Pierce County Council discusses 2020-21 budget

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier presented his department’s proposed 2020-2021 biennial budget at the Sept. 24 meeting of the Pierce County Council.

“This describes the work that 3,100 amazing employees at Pierce County are going to do over the next two years,” Dammeier said of the 528-page budget. “This budget reflects our shared priorities: behavioral health and homelessness, public safety, nuisance properties, economic development and reinvesting in our facilities.”

Dammeier stressed prudent financial measures and long-term planning underpin the proposed budget, with the goal of county government being good stewards of taxpayer money.

“We are focused on getting things done for the people of Pierce County, and the foundation of this work – sound financial management and smart business practices – makes this possible,” he said.

According to a financial overview of the proposed budget, Pierce County’s beginning fund balance as of Jan. 1, 2020 is $392 million, with an ending fund balance projection on Dec. 31, 2021, of $333.4 million.

Pierce County plans on continuing its renewed investment in behavior health resources, including an expansion of the Mobile Community Intervention Response Team, as well the new soon-to-be-under-construction Crisis Recovery Center in the Parkland/Spanaway area.

Homelessness will continue to be a focus for county officials. Dammeier explained to the council he has been working with mayors and communities across Pierce County on a regional approach to create more affordable housing.  That effort has been undertaken in collaboration with Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards and councilmember Connie Ladenburg, Dammeier explained.  It will be funded in part by existing tax proceeds redirected to local jurisdictions by the state to accelerate the creation of affordable housing.

“We need more housing, and we need more types of housing as we move forward,” Dammeier said.

As in previous years, public safety remains a top priority. The proposed budget includes money for technology allowing deputies of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department to spend more hours “on the beat” and in the community.

Funds are allotted for an outreach campaign connected to human trafficking, a problem Dammeier described as a “scourge” in Pierce County, particularly along the Interstate 5 corridor.

The proposed budget increases by nearly $1 million funds to clean up nuisance properties. Squalid homeless encampments endanger many people, he explained, including neighbors who live near them, clean-up crews and the people who live in them.

“We can’t allow these encampments to remain,” Dammeier said. “They are a hazard to everybody involved.”

The proposed budget aligns with Pierce County’s efforts to create an entrepreneurial climate. Dammeier touted the InvestPierceCounty.com website, which gives business owners, brokers, site selectors and community members access to a comprehensive search tool to find available commercial sites and buildings in Pierce County, along with county demographics and analytics.

The budget as proposed includes funds to restructure the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office to restore confidence and bring greater stability to the department. The office has recently been the subject of allegations the current medical examiner is responsible for ongoing violations and unethical practices that have caused a loss of confidence among employees.

Dammeier emphasized accountability and transparency in his presentation to the council, highlighting the enhancements to Open Pierce County – openpiercecountywa.gov  – a comprehensive online series of dashboards that measure and report county operations.

“The default option, I think, in government needs to be we’re working for the residents and the taxpayers,” Dammeier said. “Any data we have that we don’t have a legitimate reason to not share, the deferral option is it should be out there available to them.”

The Pierce County Council now begins a period to review and amend the budget, which is expected to be finalized by late November. The council will be holding a series of budget retreats and Committee of the Whole meetings to scrutinize the proposed budget and department budget presentations.

“We’ve got a lot of work left to do…but I’m excited…we’re going to start moving forward on that,” Dammeier said.



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