County Council boosts public safety with 2015 budget

PIERCE COUNTY, WA — After months of negotiation and discussion, members of the Pierce County Council voted unanimously Monday, Nov. 17 to adopt the county’s 2015 budget. The new budget takes effect Jan. 1 and, among other things, will devote more resources to public safety and corrections.

“Crafting a budget is always challenging, and balancing the needs of each county department with the resources we have available can sometimes be difficult,” said Council Chair Dan Roach, who represents the 1st Council District. “I’m very pleased to see that, once again, the council – despite some differences of opinion – came together in support of the right priorities for county government.”

Specifically, the new county budget allocates an additional $200,000 to the Sheriff’s Department to hire two more full-time deputies. During negotiations, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said he wanted to devote more resources to patrol and property crime prevention. Additionally, the council retained two deputy prosecutor positions that were set to expire due to the loss of grant funding. Those individuals are expected to focus their efforts on identity theft and human trafficking cases.

The budget funds the hiring of eight additional corrections deputies at the Pierce County Jail. Council members earmarked $100,000 to implement performance audit recommendations aimed at reducing the Corrections Bureau’s high cost of overtime. The Council also added language to the budget that asks the County Executive to attempt to incorporate the performance audit recommendations for the Corrections Bureau into future labor agreements to the extent possible. The budget also creates an ad hoc committee to evaluate jail operations on an ongoing basis.

The Council also added language to the budget that directs county departments to begin shutting down illegal marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens as of July 1, 2015, unless the Legislature acts to change state marijuana laws before then.

Other highlights in the budget include:

  • $75,000 for the new Parkland-Spanaway Sheriff’s Precinct, including $25,000 for Safe Streets programs.
  • Adding four case managers in response to the growing need in the Aging and Disability Resources program.
  • Keeping the total number of county staff positions at 3,000, the same as 2014 and 14 percent less than 2009 levels (the county eliminated vacant or grant-funded positions elsewhere in the budget, which is why it’s able to add some while keeping the total number flat).
  • Funding for an additional ferry run to Anderson Island, pending the results of a study currently being conducted.
  • Numerous road improvements to Canyon Road East between Frederickson and Waller.
  • Improvements to Crystal Mountain Boulevard between SR-410 and mile marker 3.25.

General Fund spending would increase by 3 percent, to $281.8 million, thanks to an improving economy that results in higher collections in sales tax revenues and higher property values. That fund is the most discretionary and covers most general government services.

Total county spending – including specific funds for roads, the airport and ferry system, stormwater and sewer systems, and more – drops by 5.72 percent, to $928.7 million, mostly due to lower spending on the multi-year expansion of the Chambers Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The Council voted Nov.12, to approve some of the supporting ordinances that implement the budget, but it did not take a final vote on the main budget proposal at that time. Instead, the county’s legislative body delayed its final vote until its Nov. 17 meeting to ensure the public had time to review and provide comment. The preliminary budget submitted by the County Executive is available online here; the final budget documents will be posted online soon.

The final budget meeting can be reviewed on Pierce County TV’s website, www.piercecountytv.org, or on PCTV’s mobile app.

The budget now goes to County Executive Pat McCarthy, who has 10 days from receipt to approve or veto it.

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