Candidates for a seat on the Pierce County Council disagree over whether to hike the sales tax for mental health services. They also are at odds over a ballot measure facing voters Nov. 6: Should a supermajority of five council members be required to raise taxes?
But they agree they want to protect public safety and spark business growth.
Voters will decide four County Council races in next month’s general election, three of them open seats. That means no matter what happens, there will be fresh faces and a possible power swing in the seven-member council, now controlled by five Republicans.
Voters will determine who gets four-year terms for a job that pays $107,602 a year.
One of the council’s major responsibilities is approving the annual budget, which tops $839 million and pays for about 3,000 employees. About 79 percent of the county’s general fund of $275.6 million goes to law enforcement, corrections and judicial services.
County Executive Pat McCarthy has proposed cutting vacant law enforcement and corrections positions for the 2013 budget.
Most candidates for the council are giving conditional support or taking a wait-and-see attitude on McCarthy’s cuts.
Lakewood Mayor Doug Richardson, a Republican, and Anderson Island resident Ann Dasch, a Democrat, are running to replace term-limited Steilacoom Republican Dick Muri.
Dasch is running for office for the first time. Richardson has been on the Lakewood City Council since the city was founded in 1995.
Both automatically advanced in their two-person primary race in August. Richardson received 57 percent of votes cast to Dasch’s 43 percent.
District 6 includes Lakewood, DuPont, Steilacoom, Anderson Island, part of Parkland and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Richardson and Dasch disagree on whether to raise the sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent for mental health services, an issue raised at a candidates’ forum last week.
In March, the Tacoma City Council approved a sales tax increase of the same size for mental health and chemical dependency services. The County Council didn’t take up the issue.
Richardson said it’s the state’s job to pay for these services.
“We’re so high now in sales tax,” he said. “You look at the potential impact on businesses; it’s significant.”
Dasch said not taking action to adopt the tax has hurt public safety and increased jail costs. She cited increased overtime costs at the Pierce County Jail, partly due to rising numbers of inmates with mental health problems.
Dasch said she would push for the sales tax increase to improve mental health care. “I think our county has been irresponsible in not addressing this issue.”
She opposes requiring a supermajority of five council members – instead of four – to approve new taxes because “it diminishes the power of voters” and makes government less nimble.
Richardson said he supports requiring a supermajority.
Both candidates say public safety is their top priority. And both say they want the sheriff’s department to open a precinct in Parkland.
Dasch supported the county executive’s plan to cut vacant law enforcement positions as a “fairly reasonable compromise.”
“We have to cut somewhere, and public safety is the biggest portion of that general fund,” she said.
Richardson said he’d want Sheriff Paul Pastor to assess the impact of cutting vacancies and to know if Pastor had other recommendations for reductions.
“Ultimately, we’d have to make the decision,” Richardson said.
After public safety, Richardson said economic development is his next priority. He singled out the need for transportation improvements, such as extending state Route 167 to the Port of Tacoma and improving interchanges along Interstate 5 through Lewis-McChord.
Richardson said he’ll work to ensure the “right economic climate to grow the economy – to make sure we’re not a commuter county, we’re an employment county.”
Dasch said economic development is near the top of her priorities. She named the same highway projects as a priority for business growth.
Dasch, who has two children, ages 12 and 14, said she brings “the perspective of parents who are worried about the world we’re handing our kids and what options will be available to them by the time they’re old enough to vote.”
Richardson has two grown children living in Pierce County.
Both candidates said they support a property tax for flood control, but that areas not prone to flooding, such as District 6, should pay less than the flood-prone Puyallup River Valley.
The County Council, in its role as the flood district’s board of supervisors, is expected to set a tax for the flood district in November.
State Rep. Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, and University Place Mayor Ken Grassi, a Republican, are competing for the District 4 seat on the council, representing Fircrest, University Place and much of Tacoma. That position will be vacated by term-limited Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma.
In the four-person primary race, Ladenburg received 39 percent of votes cast to Grassi’s 23 percent. Grassi barely edged Democrat Sharon Benson to advance.
Ladenburg, who represents the 29th District in the Legislature, said economic development is her top priority, followed by public safety.
“They’re tied together,” Ladenburg said. “If our economy is not strong, our community is not strong.”
Grassi puts public safety first, followed by economic development.
“The Port of Tacoma right now is creating a lot of new jobs,” Grassi said. “It’s important to work with the port to make sure those jobs remain.”
Both candidates cite the need to improve transportation corridors as critical tools for economic growth.
Ladenburg noted that she added a budget proviso in the Legislature to approve a $7 million study of interchange improvements along I-5 at Lewis-McChord in Pierce and Thurston counties.
“I want to grow business and get businesses to come here,” Ladenburg said.
Both gave conditional support to the county executive’s plan to cut vacant positions in the sheriff’s department.
Ladenburg said she understands the need to balance the 2013 budget. But she’s also concerned it takes a long time to fill law enforcement positions and that it may take years to return to a full staff.
Grassi said it’s always his hope that public safety positions are the last to go. But if cuts must be made, it’s better to let vacancies go unfilled, he said.
“I think the budget that (the county executive) is proposing on the surface looks good,” he said.
They both support a flood control tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Ladenburg said she supports increasing the sales tax for mental health services.
Grassi said he wants to hold the state accountable for funding mental health and “exhaust every possibility” before raising the county tax.
“My angst with it is that the sales tax cannot be a cure-all every time there’s something that needs to be funded,” Grassi said.
Grassi supports requiring a supermajority to raise taxes. Ladenburg opposes the measure because it would allow a minority of three council members to block a tax increase.
Grassi, who runs two flower shops in Tacoma, said the biggest difference between him and Ladenburg is his support for small business, which Grassi called “the backbone of America.”
He cited a report by the National Federation of Independent Business that says Ladenburg had a 90 percent anti-small business voting record during the 2011-12 Legislature.
Ladenburg said the federation has a “right-of-center” bias. She cited her 55 percent pro-business voting record in 2011 from a more moderate group, the Association of Washington Business.
Ladenburg said she’s worked consistently to assist small businesses in the past and would continue to do so on the County Council.
Candidates for Pierce County Council
Residence: Anderson Island.
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics, Davidson College; master of education in counseling psychology, James Madison University.
Occupation: Owns and operates Sparkle Residential Cleaning.
Civic experience: Member of Anderson Island Citizens’ Advisory Board since 2010; member of Pierce County Ferry Committee since 2008; vice chairwoman, Nisqually Aquatic Reserve Stewardship Committee. She has a background in college administration and student services.
Total raised/spent: $12,696.73/$10,938.47.
Top donors include: Robert Allport, $600; Michael Allport, $250; Kay Dasch, $250; Vern Dasch, $250; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 483, $250; National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, $250.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in history, The Citadel; master’s degree in strategic studies, U.S. Army War College.
Occupation: Mayor, City of Lakewood. Senior manager, system integration group, Northrop Grumman Corp. in Lakewood.
Civic experience: Member of Lakewood City Council since 1995, mayor since 2005. Has 32 years of active and reserve service in the U.S. Army and is a retired reserve brigadier general. Co-chair of elected officials council of the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership and a member of South Sound 911 Policy Board. Member of Tacoma-Pierce County and Lakewood Chambers of Commerce and Partners for Parks.
Total raised/spent: $24,811.04/$14,591.36.
Top donors include: Pierce County Affordable Housing Council, $1,400; Builders United in Legislative Development, $900; Ron Lucas, $500; Diana Olson, $500; Waste Connections, $500.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social work, Pacific Lutheran University; master’s degree in social work, University of Washington.
Occupation: 29th District state House representative since 2011.
Civic experience: Member, Tacoma City Council, 2001-09. Youth program coordinator for Safe Streets Campaign, 1999-2005. Co-founder of Alliance for Youth of Pierce County and Community in Schools of Tacoma. Coordinated Get Smart Tacoma, which evolved into a services-for-schools program called Tacoma 360. Created and implemented a violence prevention initiative for middle school students sponsored by City of Tacoma and Tacoma Public Schools.
Total raised/spent: $42,102.34/$31,998.44.
Top donors include: Active in Democracy, $1,800; Michael Tucci, $1,000; Nisqually Indian Tribe, $900; Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME AFL-CIO, $900; Waste Connections, $900.
Residence: University Place.
Education: Studied business management, Green River Community College.
Occupation: Co-owner, Grassi’s Flowers and Gifts Inc., Tacoma. University Place City Council member since 1995, second term as mayor.
Civic experience: Chairman of University Place Beautification; treasurer, Homestead Park Committee; chairman, Treasures in the Park/Duck Daze; board member, Life Center Ministries.
Total raised/spent: $7,964.73/$6,973.61.
Top donors include: Roger Gruener, $1,000*; Cliff Flintoff, $500; Pierce County Affordable Housing Council, $500; Julie Nordlund, $500; Michelle Stephens, $400; Shirleen Gruener, $400. *Public Disclosure Commission records show Roger Gruener was refunded $500.