Pierce County government may be slowly coming back to revenue and spending levels before the Great Recession and the weak economy that has continued in its aftermath, but times are still difficult.
Stan Flemming, who represents District 7 on the Pierce County Council, touched on budgeting and funding in the county, including the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, during Thursday morning’s address to the Gig Harbor-sponsored public affairs forum.
The county’s general-fund expenditures have fallen with the recession and the post-recession economy, he said.
In 2008, the county spent $278 million — the recent high — and then dropped in each of the next two years, to $273 million and $266 million, respectively. Starting in 2011, expenditures increased to $269 million and went up again last year to $273.7 million.
General-fund expenditures for 2013 are projected to be $274.8 million, with 78 percent of that figure going to pay for law enforcement and the court system.
“Overall, our deputies are doing a great job,” Flemming said to those gathered at Cottesmore of Life Care in Gig Harbor. He said county government employment has continued to decline, going from 3,480 employees in 2008 to 2,981 in 2013.
But it wasn’t all bad news.
Flemming highlighted some of the county’s enterprise fund sources, including the Tacoma Narrows Airport, which is at the beginning stages of having its master plan updated in advance of the 2015 U.S. Open golf tournament. The championship will be held at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place.
“Tacoma Narrows Airport is one of those gems we have in Pierce County,” Flemming said.
He also noted Chambers Bay, an 18-hole, links-style course, is “on a glide path to becoming profitable in two or three years.”
The golf tournament is expected to infuse the local economy with $150 million, Flemming said.
“The Gig Harbor area is right in the target zone to benefit,” he said.
Closer to home, Flemming highlighted 2013 budget items that impact the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, including $4.6 million for Wollochet Drive improvements, $120,000 for Key Center road improvements, $35,000 for Key Center sidewalks and a crosswalk, and $25,000 to provide emergency communications services to KGHP, the Peninsula School District student-run radio station that operates a noncommercial license at Peninsula High School.
Last year, the county began a five-year boat ramp repair program, Flemming said. Regarding the ramp at the Purdy Spit, the county has entered into a memorandum of agreement between Parks and Public Works for maintenance.
Plans to repair the boat ramp at the Fox Island Bridge are currently bogged down in negotiations between the federal Bureau of Land Management to transfer ownership to the county.
Flemming also detailed some countywide priority projects for this year. He cited the completion of work on state Route 167, which connects Interstate 5 in Tacoma with Interstate 405 in Renton, as a priority in order to maintain the competitive advantage of Washington state’s ports over the Fairview Terminal at Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
“It’s critically important that we complete the 167 freeway,” Flemming said.
Addressing the mental health crisis in Pierce County also is important, he said.
Flemming said the county has two institutions for the mentally ill: Western State Hospital in Lakewood and a de facto mental hospital at the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma.
“The dilemma we have now is ... we have citizens who desperately need that facility,” Flemming said.
The lack of housing for the mentally ill means they often end up on the street, where they are not only a danger to themselves but to others, he added.
“What we have is a broken system,” Flemming said.
Reporter Brett Davis can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_brett.