Pierce County is one step closer to a new Biennial Budget. After nearly a month of budget presentations from the County’s departments and separately elected offices, The Pierce County Council began budget deliberations for the 2024-2025 Biennial Budget on Thursday, Oct. 26.
The County operates on a two-year budget cycle, with each biennium guiding how vital public services are funded and the community investments the County will make to address many issues, such as affordable housing, homelessness, and public safety.
On Oct. 26, the Council focused on Human Services, Public Safety, and Legal and Judicial Areas of the budget. The Oct. 27 Budget Retreat focused on Planning and Public Works, Parks, General Government, Finance and Information Technology.
The first topic discussed was how the County allocates opioid settlement funds. Councilmember Jani Hitchen (District 6), who chairs the Council’s Health & Human Services Committee, brought forward the idea that the County’s Behavioral Health Advisory Board take on the work of exploring how the funds are dispersed, urging that whatever system is established includes someone who is in active recovery.
Hitchen also spoke about how she would like to see more geographic diversity in the availability of treatment and recovery options across the County, urging that any Request for Proposal (RFP) focuses on how services are provided outside the geographic center of the County.
Councilmember Dave Morell (District 1) urged blending revenue from the 1/10th of one percent sales tax for behavioral health and therapeutic courts with opioid settlement funds so programs can continue after the opioid settlement funds are exhausted. He also urged that the Council give the Behavioral Health Advisory Board time to formulate a plan for how to invest funds so the Council can make informed decisions about funding allocations.
The opioid settlement funds come from a settlement between local governments across the country and opioid manufacturers. Money from the settlement is dedicated to substance abuse treatment, recovery, harm reduction, and other life-saving programs and services to combat the opioid epidemic. Pierce County will receive $48.8 million in settlement funds, paid in installments over 11 years.
Other topics of discussion for Human Services included:
Main topic: creating a sanctioned encampment site and additional safe parking sites as a first step toward more stable and long-term housing.
Main topic: how the County can incentivize the development of affordable housing, primarily through work with Pierce County’s Public Development Corporation.
Main topic: forming a procurement workgroup with community partners to explore improvements in how the County procures and reimburses service providers.
- Senior Centers
Main topic: increasing funding to support of senior centers.
- Youth Violence Prevention Funds
Main topic: prioritizing investments from Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Funding for youth summer programs, young adult paid internships, and investing in childcare capacity.
The remainder of the Council’s Oct. 26 retreat focused on the Department of Emergency Management, the Medical Examiner, the Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Assigned Counsel (Public Defender), District Court, Juvenile Court, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
During Juvenile Court’s budget presentation, TJ Bohl, the Administrator for Juvenile Court, informed the Council that the hiring incentive bonuses for new County Corrections Officers do not apply to Juvenile Court Corrections Officers. The Council discussed this during the budget retreat and much more.
County Executive Bruce Dammeier identified transportation as one of the three top priorities in his budget proposal. The Council spent time discussing the County’s transportation system, with Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4) noting that a transportation system that is safe and works for all users is a significant priority for the Council. In 2022, the Council endorsed Vision Zero as part of a comprehensive effort to strive to achieve zero traffic deaths and severe injuries on Pierce County Roadways by 2035.
The discussion began with a discussion of the proposed ferry rates for the County’s Ferry that runs from Steilacoom to Anderson and Ketron Islands and how to transition the County’s two diesel ferries to electric ferries. That approach may provide an opportunity for funding support from the state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA). However, barriers exist, such as infrastructure limitations with the County’s ferry docks.
The discussion transitioned quickly to the Council’s Vision Zero initiative, centering on more sidewalks and crosswalks across the County. Vice Chair Marty Campbell (District 5) commented that there are lots of roads in his district that lack sidewalks.
That point led to a discussion about what projects are expected during the two years of the biennium outside of the planning phase. More information is pending on this, but there was a consensus among the Council that focusing investments on projects ready to go would be a good use of the County’s limited resources.
Other topics of discussion for the Oct. 27 retreat were:
- Blighted Property Maintenance Fund
Main topic: adding another code enforcement officer and managing the County’s ‘See. Click. Fix.‘ portal.
- Building and Development Fund
Main topic: the timeliness of permitting and the fee waiver program for affordable housing programs
- Planning and Code Enforcement Fund
Main topic: the County’s ten-year Comprehensive Plan Update required in 2024.
- Utilities & Broadband
Main topic: decreasing or eliminating the Executive’s proposed budget cut for broadband infrastructure projects.
- Conservation Futures
Main topic: the use of conservation futures funding for recreational programming.
- Parks and Recreation General Fund
Main topic: contracting a park ranger or similar service to respond to issues in county parks.
- Park Impact Fee
Main topic: moving projects forward so planning remains relevant.
- Park Sales Tax Fund
Main topic: the use of parks sales taxes for staffing and programming versus the development of physical parks and green spaces.
- Park Second REET Fund
Main topic: projects and programs in the Capital Facilities Plan and the transfers of Real Estate Excise Tax (REET).
- Paths and Trail/Paths and Sales Construction Fund
Main topic: the use of Parks Construction Funds for staffing expenditures.
- The Assessor/Treasurer’s Office
Main topic: adding staffing capacity to support property tax exemption applications for low-income seniors.
- The Auditor’s Office
Main topic: support for a communications manager to support the needs of the Auditor’s Office.
- Human Resources
Main topic: the budget’s ability to support human resources in filling positions, training, and supporting County Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives.
- Finance and Information Technology
Main topic: the processing of contracts, specifically Human Services contracts.
Main topic: adding additional staffing capacity to support Planning & Public Works and bringing functions outside agencies currently perform into the department.
The Council will continue its budget deliberations on Wednesday, Nov. 1, and Thursday, Nov. 2, with space reserved on the calendar for Friday, Nov. 3, if needed. You can attend the retreats remotely through Zoom by visiting www.piercecountywa.gov/council. Recordings are also posted on YouTube so you can watch them on demand.
The Council will move into final preparations for passage of the 2024-2025 Biennial Budget on Wednesday, Nov. 8, where the Council will hold a Committee of the Whole meeting. At that meeting, Mello expects to release a Chair Amendment to the Executive’s budget proposal.
The Chair amendment is a comprehensive revision of the Executive’s Biennial Budget proposal discussed by the Council.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Council will consider adoption of the Chair Amendment at another Committee of the Whole meeting. If adopted, the Chair Amendment moves to the full Council for consideration as a substitute to the 2024-2025 Budget Ordinance.
On Tuesday, Nov. 14, Councilmembers will have their first opportunity to amend the substitute 2024-2025 Budget Ordinance. Councilmembers will have a second opportunity for further amendments on Tuesday, Nov. 21, before the adoption of the final Biennial Budget. This is a new process by the Council aimed at keeping the budget process moving forward at a steady pace, providing additional transparency, and providing multiple opportunities to amend the budget.
The Council aims to adopt the 2024-2025 Budget on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023.