Pierce County exec proposes 'unprecedented' investments in biennium budget

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier unveiled and went into some detail about a $3 billion budget proposal for the county’s 2022-23 biennium during a 30-minute presentation at the Sept. 21 meeting of the Pierce County Council.

Dammeier touted the budget as a way for the county to deal with and move past the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At its core, it’s about recovery,” Dammeier said. “It’s about Pierce County moving forward to a better and brighter future.”

Toward that end, Dammeier characterized proposed investments in homelessness and affordable housing, behavior health, and public safety and policing as “unprecedented.”

 “This proposed budget supports our continued emergency response, but its primary focus is on strengthening our communities long-term,” according to the budget statement. “Our top priority is public safety and justice. This budget makes key investments in our Sheriff’s Department to hire more deputies, build community trust, and support the wellness of our law enforcement officers. We also propose a new mental health court and adding a new team of behavioral health professionals to respond to non-criminal calls for help.

“Another critical priority is addressing homelessness and housing instability,” the budget statement continued. “This budget creates more shelter and affordable housing on a scale that is unprecedented in Pierce County. Funding is provided so those on the street have a safe place to go and the support they need to stay housed. For the encampments left behind, resources are provided to clean them up.”

Almost $100 million is slated for ending homelessness and reinforcing affordable housing, including $26.2 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding that will double the amount of available shelter beds in the county.

Nearly $80 million is dedicated to emergency rental assistance programs, with $25 million in ARPA funding to develop and preserve affordable housing and $30 million to purchase land on which to build more affordable housing.

Dammeier’s budget expands on last year’s sales tax passed by the Pierce County Council, adding 0.1 percent to all sales in the county, and adding $28.86 million to fund behavioral health services programs within the county. It also allocates nearly $2 million to create 14 new county positions in support of residents with disability and aging concerns.

On the public safety front, Dammeier’s budget includes $2.1 million for body and dash cameras for county deputies. It also sets aside $1.54 million to create four new positions in the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

The budget also includes $1.28 million to create a new Rapid Response Team of five behavioral health professionals who would resolve non-criminal situations, as opposed to armed police officers being dispatched.

Other proposed major expenditures include:
• $25 million for infrastructure, including $15 million for broadband.

• $22 million to preserve open spaces, repair habitats, manage forests and transition to electric motor vehicles.

• $10 million in support of a new elections center.

• $6 million for COVID-19 testing.

• $4 million in ARPA funding to support professional services for small businesses.
Over the next three months, the Pierce County Council will review and amend the budget, which is expected to be finalized by late November.
In other major business, the council approved restricting the discharge of fireworks in unincorporated Pierce County to July 4 and Dec. 31 only, starting in 2023. Fireworks are currently allowed in unincorporated Pierce County from July 1 through July 5.
Starting in 2023, the ordinance also gives the Pierce County fire marshal the authority, in consultation with the Pierce County executive, to temporarily ban fireworks if conditions are unsafe for their use.
Given that consumers buy fireworks as soon as firework stands open, Councilmember Dave Morell requested the fire marshal outline how soon before July 4 a ban could be issued. The fire marshal is expected to return by April 2022 with an outline.

“This is a sensible and balanced ordinance that narrows the formula down to determine whether a ban is necessary and gives good science as to why it’s being done,” Morell said. “Yes, it is taking away days when fireworks could be used, but by adding a day in December, we are increasing the opportunity for when nonprofits can sell fireworks.”

The council also passed Proposal No. 2021-86, creating a Pierce County Commission on Refugees and Immigration Affairs.This advisory body will be made up of nine Pierce County residents for the purpose of supporting “members of the refugee and immigration communities in Pierce County related to employment, economic development, public health, student achievement, citizenship, public safety, criminal justice, civic engagement, language access and protection of civil rights.”

“I think having this commission in place really helps us welcome people into our community,” Councilmember Marty Campbell said in light of the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan last month. “We may not see a large resettlement of Afghan refugees. We will see some coming here, and they’re going to need help when they get here.”


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