TACOMA – On Wednesday, Nov. 1, Pierce County Council Chair Ryan Mello (District 4) went on an early morning walk in the Bethel School District with Pierce County Councilmembers Jani Hitchen (District 6) and Amy Cruver (District 3). The purpose was to see the routes hundreds of kids in the school district take each morning.
On that cold morning, Mello said, “Most of the routes are without sidewalks. There’s nothing like walking in another’s shoes, and it’s so timely because we’re developing the 2024-2025 Biennial Budget. There is a lot of need.”
Today – just one week after that walk – Mello released the first amendment, known as Amendment One, to the County’s proposed 2024-2025 Biennial Budget.
“This budget reflected in my Amendment One really and truly reflects the Council’s priorities and our community’s needs,” said Mello. “Our final budget will invest heavily in public safety – in terms of traditional public safety, like equipping our deputies with the tools they need and addressing community safety, with more money for youth diversion programs and money set aside for domestic violence. We’re also getting at core causes of criminal behavior that you can see along our other priority budget areas.”
Amendment One maintains many of the proposals offered in Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s proposed budget delivered to the Council on Tuesday, Sept. 19. For example, Dammeier’s proposed budget restored 12 positions funded out of the County’s general fund in the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, resulting in a cost of about $3.4 million. That is still in.
There are differences, however. Here’s what you need to know about Amendment One.
Public Safety is a Significant Part
According to Mello, Dammeier’s proposed 2024-2025 Biennial Budget was a good starting point for public safety, but there was room for improvement. With Amendment One, Mello is offering what he calls a comprehensive approach to public safety:
- Protecting deputies and community members with upgraded body cameras and technology. The cameras activate when deputies draw their sidearm or their taser. They also produce a more transparent, more well-encompassed image. The latest technology upgrades allow residents to upload information from mobile phones, doorbell cameras, and other devices. This makes evidence gathering easier for community members to better inform property crimes and other evidence collection needs.
- Establishing a Small Business Security and Safety Program to support crime-impacted unincorporated communities and small cities and towns. The program will reimburse 50% of eligible costs up to a maximum yet to be determined by the Council as a match for one-time expenditures to make physical changes to business premises. This can include installing lights, alarms, fencing, cameras, and more.
- Establishing a Jail Confinement Alternative Program. This invests $410,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for purchasing home monitoring tools like ankle bracelets for justice-involved people on pretrial release or those convicted of a misdemeanor. This investment will free up costly jail space for more individuals who pose a danger to community safety.
- Adding a Human Resources (HR) Specialist position to support the Sheriff’s Department in recruiting new deputies and expediting the hiring process. This new position will provide the Sheriff’s Department with dedicated access to a human resources specialist who will help recruit new deputies and ensure they remain supported through the multi-step hiring and training process.
- Maintains the Sheriff Department’s hiring bonuses for commissioned law enforcement officers and corrections offers and expands it to Juvenile Detention Officers to attract high-quality candidates to work with youth being held at the Remann Hall Pierce County Juvenile Detention Center. In addition, Amendment One includes a $600,000 ARPA allocation to Juvenile Court to establish youth diversion programs to help prevent recidivism in youth violence and crime.
- Funding a Probation Officer, Legal Processing Assistant, and Court Commissioner from the Behavioral Health and Therapeutic Courts Tax Fund for District Court. This will help District Court process more cases and increase the availability of therapeutic courts to get to the root causes of crime, such as substance use or behavioral health disorders.
- Adding a Code Enforcement Officer and one Deputy Prosecuting Attorney to increase Code Enforcement Abatement work. Solid waste-related code violations, such as illegal roadside dumping, make up 45% of code enforcement complaints while zoning issues along shorelines and other protected areas and unpermitted, potentially unsafe structures make up 42%.
Public safety is also seen throughout the Council’s other budget priority areas, like the County’s Co-Responder Program, which embeds Designated Crisis Responders contracted with the Sheriff’s Department with law enforcement responding to 911 calls for individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis.
It Makes use of a new Community Needs Program Established in Ordinance No. 2023-68
Another significant addition to the 2024-2025 Budget is the Council-initiated Community Needs Fund program. The Council passed Ordinance No. 2023-68 on Tuesday, Oct. 31, establishing the framework for the program. The program distributes funds to community organizations and local government partners for initiatives that will enhance the quality of life for community members in every part of Pierce County.
The program allows Councilmembers to fund the priorities they have identified by providing funding capped at $75,000 a year or $150,000 in the biennium for community-led initiatives. Only nonprofit organizations or public entities within Pierce County, or currently doing business in the County, are eligible to receive funding from the program.
“The way we employ our program in Amendment One will help a lot of people. These are people experiencing homelessness right now. They are people experiencing food insecurity right now. They are seniors who need senior centers to stay active and connected right now, and so many other people,” said Council Vice Chair Marty Campbell (District 5). “We can get money to the organizations working in these spaces quickly. I’m looking forward to helping make meaningful impacts in people’s lives throughout Pierce County.”
Some examples of the community organizations funded with the Community Needs Fund program in Amendment One include:
- Graham Senior Center ($50,000)
- Mid-County Senior Center ($50,000)
- Orting Senior Center ($50,000)
- Step-by-Step – a program based in Puyallup giving babies a healthy start and moms the skills they need to thrive ($75,000)
- Tacoma Farmer’s Market Association ($45,000)
- Community Healthcare Puyallup Clinic for behavioral health services ($50,000)
- Japanese Memorial at the Puyallup Fairgrounds ($50,000)
- Key Peninsula Community Services ($30,000)
- Pierce Family Promise – providing services for students in the Bethel and Franklin Pierce School Districts who are experiencing homelessness ($100,000)
Many more organizations will benefit from the Community Needs Fund program. Expenditures from this program require approval from the Pierce County Council, and the Executive Branch can propose expenditures for Council consideration. The ordinance authorizing this is still pending Dammeier’s signature.
It Takes a Long-term Approach to Litter Reduction and Graffiti Removal
Dammeier’s budget proposal calls for creating a Community Restoration and Cleanup Initiative with an allocation of $4.5 million from ARPA. Amendment One removes this ARPA allocation.
“We have a litter problem on our streets,” Campbell said. “I believe the Executive’s ideas for a community restoration initiative is a good start. In talking with our neighbors, I have heard the larger problem is people living on our streets, under bridges and overpasses. Amendment One includes short and long term solutions to our area’s housing and homelessness problem.”
Housing Affordability and Supply
- Uses $1.3 million of ARPA funds for Eviction Prevention to help people stay in their homes by providing short-term rental and utility payment assistance to help stabilize families at risk of displacement. In addition, 10% of the funds are directed to improving the County’s portal, so applying for assistance is easier.
- Provides $2.75 million for the Pierce County Community Development Corporation to establish an Affordable Housing Development and Preservation Rapid Acquisition Program. Public funds will be available to provide low-interest revolving loans to rapidly assist nonprofit organizations with property purchases for affordable housing development or preservation.
- Adds staff to the Assessor-Treasurer Office to help low-income senior citizens and service-disabled veterans apply for the state’s Property Tax Exemption program. More than 40,000 seniors and veterans will become eligible for property tax reductions from recent changes in state law. New staff will help these low and fixed-income community members get the tax relief they need.
- Homelessness and Stable Housing
- Uses $2.5 million from ARPA to establish a stability site outside of Tacoma for people experiencing homelessness. This site will include security, trash pick-up, and hygiene facilities, and it will have wrap-around services as a first step toward more stable and long-term housing options.
- Uses $520,000 from ARPA for an additional safe parking site and keeps the four safe parking sites currently supported by the County for another two years.
Some parts of the Community Restoration and Cleanup Initiative remain, such as the purchase of a $300,000 litter vacuum truck to pick up litter along county roads. Amendment One also creates a Community Mural Arts Program for properties in unincorporated Pierce County. This is a $250,000 grant program for local artists to paint murals on walls, focusing on high graffiti areas and managed out of the Economic Development Department and Pierce County Arts Commission.
In describing the program, Campbell said, “In Tacoma we have seen public artwork turn blight into beauty. Our program will target high graffiti areas across the County, working with local artists to reflect our culture, diversity, and natural beauty in our community.”
Amendment One will also continue the exploration of other solutions, including Dammeier’s proposal for an Adopt-a-Road Program for $30,000 and neighborhood lighting projects for $250,000.
The Council’s Other Budget Priority Areas are Reflected Heavily
To guide the budget development process, the Council adopted Resolution No. R2023-106 in July that established the Council’s 2024-2025 preliminary budget priorities. Public safety was undoubtedly a central focus area. Other areas include:
- Behavioral Health Systems and Substance Use Disorder
- Adds $4.2 million from the Behavioral Health and Therapeutic Courts funding to increase the behavioral health service contracts only partially funded earlier this year. This includes the Health Department’s Teen Mental Health First Aid Program, which expands teen mental health first aid training in schools and youth-serving community organizations across Pierce County, and the Comprehensive Life Resources’ School Connect Program, which provides outpatient behavioral health treatment and navigation services to youth in the Peninsula School District, Orting School District, Puyallup School District, and White River School District.
- Provides $210,000 from Behavioral Health and Therapeutic Courts Tax revenue to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s (Health Department) MedsFirst Pilot Program. For many people with substance use disorder, medications for opioid use disorder are the best path to recovery. Often, though, there are barriers to entry. The MedsFirst Program eliminates the obstacles that wait times or extensive onboarding processes can present.
- Youth and Young Adults
- Adds a Children and Families Coordinator to facilitate work with the Birth to 25 Advisory Board, school districts, parks, youth-focused nonprofits, the Health Department, and other groups to establish and maintain a robust support network for the County’s youth and young adults.
- Provides $2 million for young adult internship and employment programs and Youth Drop-In Educational Activities. This is an expansion of the Council-supported Teen Late Night Program from this summer that provided a safe and fun space for teens to gather and hang out during summer break. The Summer Teen Late Night Program will be continued.
- Economy and Workforce
- Provides more than $6 million in ARPA funding to keep the Pierce County Business Accelerator and Community Navigator Programs funded for another two years.
- Earmarks $500,000 of a $12.8 million ARPA allocation for broadband infrastructure to digital literacy and digital equity services in Pierce County to assist individuals in feeling more proficient in computer and online skills to participate in the modern world more fully.
- Infrastructure Needs
- Adds $2.5 million for broadband infrastructure development and partnerships in rural areas of Pierce County, for a total of $12.8 million. This is funded through ARPA.
- Adds a Street Lighting Program with $250,000 from Community Development Block Grants for installation of street lighting at various locations around the County. In addition, the Capital Facilities Plan calls for 25 miles of new sidewalks, 710 curb ramps for accessibility, and 364 crosswalks.
- Sustainability and Livability
- Invests more than $50 million in parks and trails over the next two years. These investments include the new Orangegate Park, construction of the Pipeline Trail connecting South Hill and Tacoma, new multipurpose sports fields at Sprinker Recreation Center, and much more. A comprehensive list of capital projects is available in the Draft 2024-2029 Capital Facilities Plan.
- Adds a Sustainability Grants Coordinator in Planning & Public Works to advance climate conversations regionally and improve the County’s competitive position for Federal and State funding opportunities such as the federal Inflation Reduction Act and the state’s Climate Commitment Act. This will position residents and businesses to take advantage of these significant federal and state opportunities to save money, energy, and reduce the impact on our climate.
You can review Amendment One in its entirety at www.piercecountywa.gov/council.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, the Council will consider the adoption of Amendment One. If adopted, it will become a substitute for the proposed 2024-2025 Budget Ordinance.
“Amendment One will truly help the Council move the budget development process forward in a more transparent way for our community,” said Councilmember and Chair of the Council’s Health & Human Services Committee Jani Hitchen (District 6). “What I’m really excited about in Amendment One is the real investments it makes in managing our Opioid Settlement Funds so we can have the largest impact possible. Amendment One provides $600,000 to the Health Department’s Opioid Task Force. It also creates a new position to support a coordinated approach to opioid settlement funds across our jurisdictions and the creation of a data tool so we can visually see where and how those dollars are being spent.”
Councilmembers will have their first opportunity to amend the substitute 2024-2025 Budget Ordinance on Tuesday, Nov. 14. Councilmembers will have a second and final opportunity for further amendments on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
There are public hearings set for both of those days for the community to provide their input before the Council adopts the final Biennial Budget. The Council aims to adopt the 2024-2025 Budget on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. After budget adoption, it will go to the Executive for signature, and once signed, the new budget will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
“Before the release of Amendment One, I did a walking tour and saw how few sidewalks students in the Bethel School District have to get to school. For me, public hearings are similar to walking in someone else’s shoes. People’s stories and perspectives on how public money is being spent and invested matter,” said Mello. “We can create a better budget with your participation, and I encourage you to share your thoughts on how you want your money invested to address our County’s most pressing issues on Nov. 14 and Nov. 21.”