Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier held his first “state of the county address” last week and outlined a supplemental budget and roster of partnerships to curb homelessness around the county.
The 30-minute address touched on county efforts to streamline departments to save money and boost efficiency and transparency of government, namely a plan to merge the Planning and Land Services and the Public Works departments.
“Customers can go to one location for both building and sewer permits,” he said. “I urge the council's speedy adoption of this ordinance. As I visit our employees throughout the county, I continue to be impressed by their talent and commitment to public service. It's critical that we empower them to get the job done – without extra headaches or red tape.”
Dammeier also called for more than $10.7 million in a supplemental budget proposal that would add deputies, increase homelessness programs and partner with other governments to increase mental health services for the region. Money for the new efforts will come from a budget surplus and higher revenues born from a strong economy even with an unemployment rate that is higher than the rest of the region.
“Our unemployment rate is far too high,” he said. “At over 6 percent, it's still higher than before the recession, and is significantly higher than in King and Snohomish Counties. Almost half of our workers commute out of Pierce County, wasting countless hours of their lives in traffic. We must be more than a bedroom community for Seattle.”
Part of that improvement involves increasing mental health services, he said, noting that more than 29,000 people in the county have mental health challenges.
“To put that in context, that's 6,000 more people than can fit in the Tacoma Dome,” he said. “Many of these people end up in jail or hospital emergency rooms – the most expensive and least effective ways for them to get care.”
About $4.7 million of his budget proposal would go toward the behavioral health partnership fund. The fund would invest $500,000 toward the 120-bed behavior health facility spearheaded by MultiCare and CHI Franciscan and help develop a county-run diversion center that would provide 16 beds for people with mental health issues or addictions who would otherwise go without treatment, become homeless or land in jail because there is nowhere else for them to go.
“This is a regional problem and it will take collaboration by all our local cities, non-profit organizations, and communities of faith,” Dammeier said. “I particularly appreciate the homelessness task force that Mayor Strickland has established, and you can expect Pierce County to continue being a strong partner.”
He further proposed spending $250,000 to cover expenses landlords might experience by renting to higher risk tenants who have mental health or addiction issues. Another $750,000 would serve homeless veterans at under-used facilities at Orting’s Washington Soldiers Home.
“These men and women sacrificed for us, and it is high time we honor those sacrifices,” he said.