Last Week at the Pierce County Council — October 1st, 2017

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Public Safety & Human Services Committee

Alarm Program Update

The purpose of the Alarm Program is to save law enforcement resources. There are reasons why this is especially important for unincorporated Pierce County.

  • Pierce County has the largest unincorporated area in Washington State.
  • PCSD is understaffed compared to other cities and counties.
  • Pierce County does not have the same revenue base as neighboring cities.
  • Unlike cities where law enforcement can navigate the entire jurisdiction within a short period of time, unincorporated Pierce County covers areas from Mt. Rainier, to the King County border, to the Peninsula and islands offshore.

The PCSD Alarm Program was created in 1993 to address the problem of false alarms. At that time, requests for response to alarms was the number one call for service at the 911 Dispatch Center, with a 98–99% false alarm rate.

The plan is to have updated language in proposed ordinance in the next few months.

District Court Update

District Court is Pierce County’s Court of Limited Jurisdiction. Similar to municipal courts (it also handles civil cases) this is who handles our citations and misdemeanors.

Unfortunately their facilities are totally inadequate to their needs. They are still working in temporary court rooms and were promised space on the 5th floor of the County-City Building that remains empty. Probation, which operates out of the Hess Building, has been subject to flooding and doesn’t have a working elevator. On the bright side, the tree that was growing out of the roof has been removed.

They also reported on a number of programs they operate. We’ll have a lot more to discuss during the budget negotiations.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

NACO Health Policy Committee Graham-Cassidy Call

Once again scheduling a Health Policy Committee conference call on an Obamacare repeal bill resulted in the announcement that the bill was dead (seriously, it’s eery how often that’s happened this year). Like previous efforts, this bill sought to save federal tax dollars by putting a larger burden on state and county government.

The fact that 19.2 million people are still going without insurance indicates that Obamacare has problems and counties support bipartisan efforts to address those issues. I’ve suggested that we focus on market failures in rural areas. Even before Obamacare, that was where markets were having the most trouble. Without support hundreds of rural hospitals, often operated by counties, face closure.

Additionally, reauthorization was needed by end of the week for several health programs including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Community Health Centers (1200 across the country), Disproportionate Share Hospitals, Home Visit Program (900k last year). Unfortunately Congress failed to act and these programs expired on Saturday at midnight.

Council Meeting

This in-district meeting was in Fredrickson in Councilmember McCune’s district.

Chronic Nuisance Properties

Another tool to combat chronic nuisance properties like drug houses. We think this process should encourage greater compliance and speed up abatement. Once the owner or person in control of the property is notified, they have to agree to an abatement process that ensures compliance. If they don’t respond, the County Prosecutor can take the process to Superior Court eventually allowing the seizure and abatement of the property. Vote passed 6–1 with Councilwoman Roach opposed.

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Alliance for Health South Sound

I sit on the board of this Local Improvement Organization (LIO) made up of electeds and tribal leaders from most of Pierce County, Thurston, and Mason counties. Puget Sound Partnership designated it as the South Puget Sound organization responsible for Action Agenda implementation.

This is our regular Executive Committee meeting. A regular frustration is that money for Puget Sound restoration isn’t making its way into actual projects. We spend a lot of time and effort planning but the funds don’t follow. We talked about a number of strategies to change this dynamic.

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Refinance Work Group

The work group is made up electeds from around western Pierce County including legislators, mayors, city councilmembers, and myself. The goal is to come up with a recommendation to ease the burden of tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Options:

  • Use of savings
  • Cash flow changes
  • Create new revenue
  • Cuts

The biggest problem we have is that the bulk of the bonds sold were zero coupon so they can’t be refinanced the way a typical bond could. This was done to backload toll rates after costs exceeded what would work for the guaranteed initial toll rate.

We’re looking at the possibility of direct appropriation from the Transportation Fund to the TNB Toll Account over the life of the bonds to cap tolls. The cost would be around $100 million. While that’s a heavy lift, the group seems to be in agreement that the unusual financing for the project was fundamentally unfair to TNB tollpayers. While members of the 26th LD have always felt that way, that we’re starting to get recognition from leaders in other parts of Pierce County is a fantastic sign.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Behavioral Health Hospital Groundbreaking

To say the behavioral health system in Pierce County would be an understatement. Bed count is a commonly used metric for mental health services. The national average is 26.1 per 100,000 residents — Washington State averages 8.3 beds. Pierce County has 2.8.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Thanks to a partnership between our two major medical networks, Multicare and CHI-Franciscan, we will have a new 120 bed behavioral health hospital for in-patient care at the end of next year. The joint venture is also supported by a community partnership led by Rep. Kilmer, Brad Cheney, and Bill Weyerhaeuser. Local governments are helping fund construction in exchange for additional services. The Pierce County Council appropriated $1 million in the supplemental budget earlier this year.

This isn’t everything we need, but it’ll significantly help close the gap.

Opioid Task Force

As most are painfully aware at this point, we have an opioid epidemic raging all across the country. Last year at least 65,000 people lost their lives to overdose making it the leading cause of accidental death, exceeding car crashes for the first time. Most of those were the result of opioids. That’s true here in Pierce County as well.

To develop a countywide action plan I've convened a task force made up of elected leaders, law enforcement, fire/EMS, judges, prosecutors, public defense, human services, and treatment providers. Tacoma Councilmember Conor McCarthy will co-chair as this needs to be a true partnership between local governments.

This first meeting was to lay the groundwork. Now the hard part begins. We know we can’t incarcerate our way out of the problem. This epidemic is a public health crisis and it deserves a public health response. We will have to work in close coordination between dozens of departments and agencies. We need wide distribution of medically assisted treatment, housing, additional support for Drug Court, education, and prevention.

Saturday, September 30th, 2017

Gateway Park Opening

There’s no ribbon cutting as fun as a park opening, and Gateway Park on the Key Peninsula didn’t disappoint. The playground and shelter are the first of several phases that will eventually add a splashpad, athletic fields, and equestrian facility.

This is something the Key Peninsula should be very proud of. Key Pen Parks is a small agency but their board and foundation didn’t let that get in the way of their ambition. While I was able to join our legislative delegation in steering funds to help with property acquisition and additional capital costs, this a true community project. Even construction of the playground relied on an enormous amount of volunteer labor.

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