Retreat Week

Retreat Week

Council Retreat

Council Retreat

While regular business may have been slow, Council spent two days meeting at the Environmental Services Center to set priorities for the year.

Increased investment for public safety and abatement of drug houses drew the most attention as you might expect. We’ve steadily added FTEs to the Sheriff’s Department over the last few years but according to a staffing study we’ll hear more about soon, they remain about 60 positions short. Based on recent community discussions in the unincorporated parts of Key Peninsula, Gig Harbor, and Fox Island, I’d say that’s apparent. The difficulty has been finding the resources to fund those positions.

Another initiative I brought up drew a surprising amount of support — creation of a countywide housing strategy. Despite rapid production of new housing units, prices across Pierce County continue to skyrocket. Most of this demand is coming from people priced out of King County, demonstrating that this issue crosses our jurisdictional lines.

The timing is right to take a more focused, multi-agency look at our policies. The first is the decennial update to our Buildable Lands Inventory that will start this year. It’s a requirement of Growth Management Act to find vacant or underdeveloped land for construction and use that information to determine the zoning necessary to accommodate expected population growth. It also identifies critical areas to protect from development, a process made easier by newly available technologies.

The second is our regional land use strategy update known as Vision 2050. This is the four county region’s planning document which then sets standards for our countywide and local plans. We should spend some time now developing housing and economic development strategies that will work for Pierce County jurisdictions to take to the Puget Sound Regional Council.

Midway Point for Legislative Session

We had high hopes going into this session that there would be progress for funding county government. As co-chair of the Legislative Steering Committee for Washington State Association of Counties, I’ve been in countless meetings with legislators who seem to understand our concerns. Several have stepped up to sponsor legislation and funding requests that we’ve asked for and fought hard to get it.

Unfortunately, as in previously years, we seem to be losing instead of gaining ground. Here’s a letter we sent to the leadership of all four caucuses expressing our concerns.

Why is this important? The first part of this post was about our struggle to fund public safety and criminal justice. Pierce County isn’t alone. Counties across the state face similar shortfalls due to tax caps, unfunded mandates, and cuts to shared revenue over the last two decades. The Great Recession really put things into overdrive. This is a problem for rural and urban counties. Conservatives and liberal. Western and Eastern Washington.

Counties are divisions of state government responsible for carrying out its duties at the local level. That partnership must be mended to serve our shared constituents.