Despite some concerns about a lack of oversight from a majority of members, a unanimous Pierce County Council on May 5 passed a $158 million COVID-19 spending plan in the form of Proposal No. 2020-60, an emergency ordinance supplementing the 2020-2021 biennial budget.
The council also passed Proposal No. 2020-35, an emergency resolution setting funding priorities for the money.
Pierce County will receive the money as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The funds are earmarked for contact tracing, coronavirus testing, economic stabilization and community support services.
The money was divided into five priorities: $67 million for public health emergency response, $30 million for economic stabilization and recovery programs, $22 million for community response and resilience, $15 million for essential government services and $23 million to be set aside in contingency reserves.
“We know that time is of the essence in standing up our greater community and getting Pierce County back open,” Chairman Douglas Richardson said. “As a body, the council has opted to move swiftly with broad direction and provide for flexibility as circumstances change.”
Key funding priorities for the money approved by the council were based on initial recommendations developed by the Recovery Steering Committee co-chaired by Richardson and County Executive Bruce Dammeier.
A majority of the council expressed concerns that planned weekly updates on expenditures and project milestones by Dammeier were not enough oversight.
“We are the budget authority of the county,” council member Connie Ladenburg said. “That’s one of our primary purposes of being.”
Ladenburg’s concerns were echoed by council members Derek Young and Pam Roach in noting the steering committee made budgetary decisions in which the council was not very involved.
“I don’t feel comfortable with someone handing me something that I’m expected just to rubber stamp,” Roach said. “This outside committee determined how we are going to spend this.”
Young concurred with Roach.
“I’ll be blunt, there has never been a more important appropriate bill,” Young said. “This is life or death. If we get this wrong, people will die. Our economy doesn’t open up the right way if we do this wrong.”.
Ladenburg and council member Marty Campbell repeatedly asked for clarification on several issues with regard to spending plans.
When it became apparent the CARES spending plan did not have the required five of seven votes — a super-majority — to pass emergency legislation, Young relented, with Campbell, Ladenburg and Roach following suit.
CARES funds must be fully spent by Dec. 30, 2020, or will be forfeited to the federal government. The legislation mandates that 60 percent of funds may be spent now, with a review by the council in 60 days.