With public health officials dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pierce County Council at its Dec. 1 meeting set the stage for a vote next week on a proposal that would dissolve the public health partnership between the county and the City of Tacoma.
The new ordinance — Proposal No. 2020-136 — doesn’t specify what would replace the health department other than noting it would expire at the end of the year.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, which was created in 1972 by an interlocal agreement between the city and the county, is run by a Board of Health composed of members appointed from the Tacoma City Council, Pierce County Council, the Pierce County Cities and Towns Association and the Pierce County Medical Society.
Though the Board of Health was created by an agreement between said municipalities and a County Council ordinance, the board is independent of the county.
Several council members appeared blindsided by the proposal.
“The reason that is significant is — you know, not just that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and making large management changes seems incredibly rash to me,” Councilmember Derek Young said, pointing out the proposal would mean the health department would lose Tacoma’s $1.1 million contribution to the health department’s $40 million annual budget.
With no plans for replacing the funds that would be lost, Young recommended next year’s council research and perhaps take action on the issue after the pandemic, an oblique reference to the fact this is the last month of a Republic-held council before the legislative body flips to Democrat control for the first time in 17 years.
Two other council members joined Young in expressing dismay at the proposal, or at least the timing of it.
“I think this is an absurd time to schedule this,” Councilmember Marty Campbell said. “I’m always in favor of discussion and looking at things. Let’s look at it. But in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the middle of a pandemic.”
Councilmember Connie Ladenburg recommended the council practice better due diligence on the issue.
“I’m just stunned by the rush, the appearance of rushing this through,” she said.
Councilmember Pam Roach, listed as a sponsor of the proposal, wanted to speak on the proposal itself, but was prevented from doing so by a point of order in that the topic being discussed was the scheduling of a hearing and final vote on the proposal. Roach said she would address the proposal in the future.
Along party lines, the council voted 4-3 to hear the proposal Dec. 7, with the planned final vote on Dec. 15.
Republicans Roach, Chairman Doug Richardson, Jim McCune and Dave Morell all voted yes, while Democrats Campbell, Ladenburg and Young voted no.