It is that time of year again. Pat McCarthy, the County Executive, submitted her budget for 2017 to the County Council. Since this has to do with how we spend your money, I think it is a good idea to share with you her proposals.
First, our economy has continued to grow and we have seen employment opportunities grow and our unemployment rates are lower. The County Executive and County Council have worked in recent years to deliver cost-effective services. The combined results of the improved economy plus county efficiencies have provided us with additional resources. We are able to provide for small increases to our budget. She also is depending on the passage of the 1/10 of one percent tax. This is in response to The Executive’s recommendations for increases in the high priority areas of public health and safety and legal and judicial services.
Some samples of her requests include an additional five sheriff deputies for greater law enforcement throughout the county; a community engagement coordinator plus seven behavioral health co-responders to work with the sheriff deputies in responding to those with mental health issues. This will allow for early intervention and connection to services and reduce their incarceration; a guardian ad litem for juvenile court; one additional prosecutor for our successful property crimes unit; one public defender to meet its caseload requirements; and additional funding for corrections for overtime in the jail. She also has recommended resources for property clean-up of blighted and abandoned properties and maintenance and improvements of public works and park facilities. The county is continuing to make improvements in customer service and the executive has proposed further investments in technology to increase customer satisfaction and improve service delivery.
The general fund budget for 2017 is $298.7 million, 3.1 percent above the 2016 level. Built into the budget are modest salary increases of 1.5 percent in January and 1.25 percent in June plus health care and pension costs. We are required to have a balanced budget between revenue and expenditures. The executive and council have an agreed upon policy to maintain a 15 percent general fund reserve.
Now it is our turn. We have the executive’s budget and must decide if we agree with her proposals. In order to do so, we have had four budget retreats and went through each department budget. Our questions were then submitted to the department directors. We are now having presentations at our Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings from each director. When done we will have had 11 COW meetings. They go over the questions and provide an explanation of their requests.
The budget is not just a revenue and spending document. It is also a policy document. For example, the request for co-responders comes from a policy to address mental health in the community and not in our jails. The request for resources comes from a policy to clean up blighted properties. The request for technology improvements comes from a policy for our Planning and Land Use Department to be the best permitting agency in the state. As we move forward and continue our review, the discussions may also lead to improved and possibly new policies. If you want to provide input, please do not hesitate to contact us at: www.co.pierce.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=4460.
Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council.