Guest Editorial: Public safety, human services highlight 2018 County budget

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There are two times of the year that I refer to as “crazy time” – campaign season and budget planning. The craziness of campaigns speak for themselves so I don’t have to say anything about that topic. That leaves the budget…

Over the last few weeks we have been listening, reviewing, talking, and studying in preparation for developing and passing the 2018 Pierce County budget.  As George W. Bush said, “It’s clearly a budget.  It’s got a lot of numbers.” Yes, it does. In fact, the County’s budget for 2018 is $1,031,353,190 billion. About 67 percent of that is dedicated funds to a particular source of revenue. The remaining is in the general fund. The total general fund is $324,822,496 million. We have seven separate departments that are overseen by elected officials, plus a total of 18 different departments such as public works, parks, facilities, human resources, finance, planning and land use, juvenile justice, housing, homelessness and senior services, and a lot in between.  The Council has had five days of budget retreats and numerous presentations from department directors. The Council often peppers them with questions with an opportunity to discuss any requests for additional resources  needed to operate their departments efficiently in order to best serve the public.

If money were no object then we would be able to provide a deputy in every neighborhood, fix all the traffic problems in the county, have numerous pristine parks and trails, provide services for those with behavioral health conditions, and have a roof over the heads of our homeless. But as we all know, that is not the case.

So what we try to do is listen to the public we serve, try to identify their wants and needs, and prioritize those with the realities of government. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “The County government is the people and the budget is the reflection of their need.”

Here are some of the highlights from the 2018 budget that we passed on Nov. 21. Public Safety is the largest area that we have funded in the past and continues to be so. We funded a criminal investigation position to ensure that Pierce County does not receive more than its fair share of individuals released by the Department of Corrections, the Department of Social and Health Services, and other governmental entities. Additionally, in 2018 funding will be available to contract with a local behavioral health agency to provide for a co-responder program to assist our sheriff deputies in responding to behavioral health calls. Also, as a result of the State not responding to providing mental health treatment in a legally binding timely manner, the County will be given a grant where we will fund a number of positions in our courts, Prosecutor’s office, Assigned Counsel, and positions in the Human Services Department.

The Council is also placing a high priority on Human Services. As the County responds to the State’s requirement that counties are responsible for the implementation of integrating mental health and chemical dependency, we are developing resulting policies and programs. We passed a policy statement that requests the Human Services Department to work with the Council on efforts toward integration and strategies in the Pierce County Behavioral Health System Study. We also are directing all Pierce County departments to plan, budget, and administer their programs and funds consistent with the Pierce County Behavioral Health System Study. We will continue to fund both a Mobile Outreach Crisis team as well as Mobile Community Outreach team, each having a specialty focus. We will have a community wide effort led by the County to address the opioid addictions plaguing our County. Additionally, with the increasing numbers of people entering into the ranks of senior citizens, we have increased funding to our senior centers.

We often hear about blight in our communities and this Council is being responsive to those concerns. We have provided funding for community organizing to assist in the coordination, marketing and management of volunteers to assist community clean-up events and to conduct solid waste clean-up provided by the County’s Planning and Public Works Department. We also provided funds to be used by the executive to create a task force to support controlled substances-related law enforcement activities involving chronic nuisance properties (drug houses) including abating nuisance properties.

Once the Council passes a budget it is sent to the county executive for his signature. He has 10 days to sign or veto the budget.

As noted, these are just some of the highlights. There is much more and if you want to explore further you can find more information on the 2018 budget page.  Passing the Pierce County budget is a huge undertaking and one that this Council takes very seriously. The budget process is the reason we get into public service as it is our way to make a positive impact on the community we serve and love.

Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council.

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