As part of the supplemental budget passed at its July 6 meeting, the Pierce County Council dedicated $15 million to support the expansion of broadband services in underserved areas.
The supplemental budget for the 2020-21 biennium is the fourth of 2021, reflecting a second round of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
An evaluation of broadband access requested by the County Council found, per an April 2019 report, gaps in rural areas and in certain areas between cities. The money allocated is designed to address that disparity while improving infrastructure.
“This is specific to unserved areas,” said Chair Derek Young, explaining the funds will be used to initiate the project and attract funding from other sources, including the state and private-sector donors.
“So, the idea here is to seed a funding stack to begin building out ... basically services to the areas that right now either are unserved or underserved,” he said. “And that would be the beginning for potentially county-wide investments.”
Pierce County does not provide broadband services, per se. Rather, it manages public rights-of-way, grants franchise to telecommunications providers to operate in the right-of-way and has local building and zoning code authority in permitting certain facilities.
Other allocations approved by the council per the supplemental budget include:
• $8 million to support small business, including $4 million for an innovation grants program to help small businesses adapt to changing market conditions and $4 million for a professional services program to offer bookkeeping, tax and legal advice and graphic design and web-based services. Businesses in unincorporated Pierce County are eligible for a grant of up to $20,000 and require a match.
• $5 million for housing and homeless services to support the acquisition of hotel and motel space in Tacoma.
• $1 million for the Mustard Seed Project supporting services to seniors on the Key Peninsula.
• $500,000 for a centralized agricultural facility.
The approved supplemental budget ordinance goes to Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier for his signature.
Pierce County is set to receive $175 million under the American Rescue Plan. This spring, the council dedicated $50.5 million to address emergent needs. Some $8.6 million remains unspent of the initial $88 million the county received.
In other business, the council approved a resolution dedicating the month of July as “LGBTQ+ Pride Month” in Pierce County, eliciting a flood of call-in comments from the general public, both for and against.
The council ratified an agreement reached with the Pierce County Corrections Guild, extending the 2019-21 collective bargaining agreement through Dec. 31, 2021. The agreement includes a 2 percent general pay increase, affecting 286 full-time employees with a fiscal impact of more than $545,000.
The council ratified a collective bargaining agreement reached with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 28, Washington State Federation of Employees. The agreement includes a 1 percent increase in wages, affecting 86 full-time employees with a fiscal impact of more than $106,000.
The council passed an amended contract for municipal court services with the city of University Place. The amended contract terminates county prosecuting services on Dec. 31, 2021.
The council adopted the Region 5 Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2020-25 edition. Having such a plan is a requirement for receiving federal disaster aid.
The council approved new members to the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission (Edale Clark) and the Pierce County Arts Commission (Codi Winans).
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