A major change in the makeup of the Pierce County Council will start with next month’s primary election.
Ten candidates will compete to advance for three council positions, two of them open seats. The top two finishers in the primary will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
Two other candidates competing for a fourth council position will automatically advance to the general election. Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson, a Republican, and Anderson Island resident Ann Dasch, a Democrat, are vying to replace term-limited Republican Dick Muri of Steilacoom.
Candidates in the primary contests say they want to maintain public safety, spur major road projects and spark economic development for more jobs. But they clash on a proposed new tax for flood-control projects. Some say they oppose the tax.
Maintaining funding for public safety already is a priority. About 78 percent of the county’s general fund of $273.6 million goes to law enforcement and judicial services.
One of the council’s major responsibilities is approving the overall budget, which is now more than $803 million. Pierce County has about 3,000 employees. Nearly half – or 47 percent – of the county’s population of 808,200 lives in unincorporated areas.
The job pays an annual salary of $107,602.
The political balance of the seven-member council – controlled by five Republicans – is at stake. The seats up for election are now filled by three Republicans and one Democrat. Because of term limits, only one of those four council members – Republican Joyce McDonald – is able to defend her seat, raising the possibility of the Republican majority being weakened.
Here are the primary races.
Edgewood Mayor Jeff Hogan opposed the creation of a county flood-control zone district. And it’s one of the main reasons he’s running for the County Council. In attempting to unseat McDonald, he is taking on a fellow Republican, the council chairwoman and a major flood-control district proponent.
Puyallup auctioneer and Realtor J.R. Wikane is the third candidate and Republican running to represent District 2, which includes Puyallup, Sumner, Fife, Northeast Tacoma, Milton and Edgewood.
Hogan said the flood-control district doesn’t have a broad enough governing board and the projects it would fund aren’t defined. What’s more, Hogan said Edgewood, which sits on hill north of Puyallup, wouldn’t benefit from the district.
“There’s no opportunity to get anything out of it,” Hogan said. “We pay for a flood district, but we have no representation on the board of supervisors.”
If elected, Hogan said, he would try to remove any tax for the flood-control district. He said specific projects should be proposed and a tax or bond should be established for those projects.
The County Council voted in April to create a countywide taxing district to pay for flood control. The countywide tax, as proposed, would be limited to 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The average homeowner would likely pay around $25 per year. A board of supervisors, made up of the seven council members, is expected to decide on setting a tax in the fall.
McDonald, who has been the most vocal and active proponent for the flood-control district on the council, said state law sets up the board of supervisors as the seven County Council members.
And McDonald said Edgewood would receive its share from 10 percent of the tax revenue that would be set aside for communities’ flood projects.
McDonald said the flood-control district is essential for the public’s health and safety and to protect the county’s transportation system and economy. “The economic well-being of our county needs to be protected,” she said.
McDonald said her top priority is to keep county government “living within our means.”
“I want to continue my work on the council to ensure that our budget is balanced without increasing the tax burden on our county’s families,” McDonald said.
Wikane said he’s not opposed to a flood-control district tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
But Wikane said he wants to find innovative ways to manage the cost of flood improvements. For instance, a flood-control tax could be offset if insurance companies agreed to lower property insurance premiums because of increased protection from flooding, he said.
He also said the county needs to use its resources – including tax incentives – to attract large businesses to Pierce County.
“They need a person like me that can say, ‘If we do this, we could turn a profit or create more jobs,’ ” Wikane said.
Hogan said he supports reducing building regulations and fees to spur on new construction, creating more jobs and sales tax revenue.
All three candidates said maintaining budgets for public safety is important. Hogan said public safety is his first priority, but McDonald challenged that view.
“Apparently, the mayor in Edgewood did not think public safety was very important because they cut their contract with Pierce County for protection with deputies,” she said.
Hogan said Edgewood voters rejected a utility tax for public safety after the Edgewood City Council had approved it.
“We were forced to reduce it,” Hogan said.
Two veteran state legislators and a baking company engineer are facing off to represent District 3, a region that stretches from Spanaway and Frederickson to Graham, Eatonville and Ashford at Mount Rainier.
They are vying to fill the seat that will be vacated by term-limited Roger Bush, R-Frederickson.
The race marks the return of Eatonville Democrat Marilyn Rasmussen. She was unseated in 2008 after 22 years as a state legislator.
She is challenging Republican Rep. Jim McCune of Graham. Rasmussen lost to him two years ago when she ran for the state House in the 2nd Legislative District.
Rasmussen said her decision to run had nothing to do with her loss to McCune.
“I was hoping that somebody would jump in,” Rasmussen said. “I thought people deserved a choice.”
McCune is finishing his fourth term representing the 2nd District, but redistricting this year moved him to the 28th District. During the time he was being redistricted out of his district, McCune said he made his decision to run for the council.
“I run to protect individual liberties of the people,” McCune said. Those liberties include property and personal rights.
Corey Drury, a Spanaway Republican who works for Pacific Northwest Baking in Sumner, said he’s a blue-collar worker with “new ideas that can better direct the future of Pierce County.”
All three share a common priority: maintaining public safety.
“The No. 1 issue is public safety,” McCune said. That means helping Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor “continue the great job he’s done with the department.”
McCune added: “We need more officers out there. The population is so spread out it’s hard to respond more quickly.”
Rasmussen said the county budget is her overall top priority, which means guarding public safety dollars.
“We have to budget very closely,” Rasmussen said. “It’s paramount that we keep the people that protect the citizens on the street.”
Drury said he’s seen increases in crime in the Spanaway area since the early 1990s.
Funding for public safety needs to be maintained and increased, at the expense of nonessential services, Drury said. He said Pierce County TV and the county’s already reduced arts program should be studied to see if their level of use merits cutbacks. More programs for youth activities are needed, he said.
The candidates differ along party lines on the proposed tax for flood-control projects.
Rasmussen said she supports a tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation at most. But she wants to make sure the money is spent to prevent flooding in high-risk areas.
Both McCune and Drury said they oppose a tax for flood-control projects. They say flood projects could be funded out of existing revenues.
The largest field of council candidates is vying to win the District 4 seat on the council, representing Fircrest, University Place and much of Tacoma. The four candidates – two Tacoma Democrats and two University Place Republicans – are seeking the position that will be vacated by term-limited Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma.
State Rep. Connie Ladenburg, who represents the 29th District, and Realtor Sharon Benson are the two Democrats. University Place Council member Chris Nye and University Place Mayor Ken Grassi are the two Republicans.
Ladenburg says “putting our people back to work in Pierce County” is her top priority.
She said Pierce County needs to capitalize on the $2.4 billion in new construction scheduled to take place at Joint Base Lewis-McChord over the next four years. That federal work will be subcontracted out, and she wants to make sure “our local businesses get those contracts.”
Ladenburg said she has a record of passing legislation to counter crime during her eight years on the Tacoma City Council and in the Legislature.
Ladenburg and Benson both stress the importance of major highway projects, such as extending state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma.
Benson said the 167 extension and the cross-base highway linking Interstate 5 and state Route 7 are critical for adding more jobs at the Port of Tacoma and Frederickson. She said the County Council should exert pressure for funding those state projects.
Benson, who is a Pierce County planning commissioner, said her top priority on the County Council would be long-term growth and planning.
“We need to put Pierce County workers back to work in Pierce County,” Benson said.
Benson said the council needs to fully fund public safety, but also carve out some money for programs that prevent people from becoming criminals.
On flood control, Ladenburg said she would support a tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. So would Nye and Grassi. Benson said she needs a breakdown of where the money would be spent before she can decide how much of a tax she would support.
Nye, a Realtor who runs his own online real estate listing service, sees a golden opportunity for economic development rapidly approaching with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place in June 2015.
“We have about 1,070 days right now,” Nye said. “The world’s coming to Pierce County. This is a transformational, tipping-point, game-changing event in the history of Pierce County.”
Nye wants to reach out to Fortune 500 employers so when they grow their companies, Pierce County “is on the top of the list.”
“Let’s utilize this event here to let them know what we have here,” Nye said.
Nye, who is in his first year on the University Place City Council, said he will complete his four-term on the City Council if he’s elected to the County Council.
Grassi also said he will finish his term as University Place mayor at the end of 2013 if he’s elected to the County Council – unless someone threatens legal action over the issue. “I will not allow taxpayer money to be spent,” he said.
A Pierce County deputy prosecutor said there are no state or local laws that address holding two public offices at the same time.
But Doug Vanscoy, chief civil deputy prosecutor, said there is a 1957 Washington Supreme Court decision adopting the common law doctrine of “incompatibility of public offices” and attorney general opinions applying the case. Vanscoy said the prosecutor’s office will address the “potential issue” only if Nye or Grassi is elected and attempts to hold dual offices.
Grassi, owner of Grassi’s Flowers and Gifts Inc. in Tacoma, is the last original University Place City Council member dating back to incorporation in 1995. He said public safety is his top priority. But better roads – such as the cross-base highway and improved access to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from Interstate 5 – are related.
“You’ve got to keep people moving to entice economic development,” Grassi said. “You have to keep our community safe to bring people into the area to live.”
And, he said, “You have to have living-wage jobs to bring people here and keep them here.”