By John Larson
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier delivered a message of local governments, non-profit organizations and the private sector working together to create a better quality of life for local residents during his State of the County Address at the County/City Building on March 20.
Noting that it was the first day of spring, Dammeier recalled the recent snow storm. Public Works employees went above and beyond the call of duty to plow roads. Deputies helped stranded motorists. Several county workers in Orting heard the cries of an elderly woman who had fallen in the snow outside her home. They got the woman into the safety of her house. “It was exhausting and difficult work, but they pushed through,” he remarked.
Dammeier said public safety is the county’s top priority. He noted that 21 new deputies recently joined Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement officers have told him that domestic violence calls are the most dangerous situations they face. He mentioned a woman injured in a car wreck in Parkland last December. Two days after being issued a restraining order, her estranged husband rammed his car into her car at a high speed. The collision caused serious injuries to the woman. Her vehicle hit a nearby apartment building, injuring four people living there. “Family violence has no place in Pierce County. We must end it,” Dammeier declared.
He mentioned efforts among the County, the YWCA of Pierce County and the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center to address domestic violence. He and County Prosecutor Mary Robnett plan to introduce legislation to the Pierce County Council that would increase penalties for domestic violence acts that are witnessed by children. He also noted that Robnett’s office has added human trafficking to the issues that will be handled by the domestic violence unit.
He discussed efforts made by mental health outreach workers, who provided assistance to 300 people in crisis last year. Every dollar spent on such efforts saves $23 in health care costs, he noted. A 16-bed crisis center in Parkland will have a groundbreaking ceremony this summer, and when open, will give such people a place to go. Dammeier said Pierce County has three in-patient beds for mental health services for every 100,000 residents, far less than what is needed.
He mentioned Coffee Oasis, a program that has helped young adults at risk of homelessness in Kitsap County for more than 20 years. It will open a facility at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Tacoma, he noted.
Dammeier discussed the need for more affordable housing, noting that rents have far outpaced average income gains. He, County Councilmember Connie Ladenburg and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards have a task force that is addressing this issue. He mentioned incentives that the county can provide to housing developers, including more density and targeted fee waivers.
The executive said the county landfill generates gas with a value of $1,800 each day. Most of it is just burned off. The county purchases natural gas to help power the facility. Dammeier said by the end of the year, 63 percent of the gas now produced at the plant will be captured and used.
He noted that Robnett, who won office last November, ran as an independent in the partisan race. He and Robnett are proposing a change to the Pierce County Charter that would make this position non-partisan. This will go to the council, which will decide whether to put it on the ballot for voters to decide this November.