Recently, Pierce County filed a lawsuit to stop a referendum that would harm county government and its institutions. With guidance from legal counsel, it’s clear to me that there is an exemption in the county charter intended specifically for cases like this.
Last month, the County Council voted to go ahead with plans to build a new general services building to consolidate programs and services. Doing so would eliminate wasteful leases and reduce our payroll.
While the $230 million price tag is hefty, the cost of not building a new facility would easily surpass $300 million – a burden I’m not willing to lay at the foot of taxpayers. Ultimately, it was a difficult vote but certainly the right thing to do.
After the referendum was filed, it became clear that jeopardizing the approved project would detrimentally impact county government and set a precedent that could harm our ability to govern efficiently.
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While I absolutely support the right to challenge new taxes or laws, I cannot support subjecting our budget, contracts or credit to a referendum. To do so would set a precedent that could do enormous long-term harm to the public interest.
Imagine a world where businesses didn’t know if they could trust our contracts, bonds could be overturned, and special-interest groups could find a new way to appropriate money no matter the financial condition of the local government. Despite our long history with direct democracy, subjecting basic operations to public votes like that is to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented, and would have devastating consequences.
Therefore, I supported the county executive’s request to the prosecutor’s office to file a lawsuit to block the referendum. I expect the judge will agree that the ordinance is not subject to referendum.
The problem with government is that elected officials sometimes can appear to be more worried about their next election than doing the right thing. It’s a model that started in Congress, but unfortunately has filtered down to state legislatures and local government.
Council Chairman Dan Roach made it known last week that he will be proposing a resolution requiring the county prosecutor to drop the referendum challenge. Voting in favor of that resolution would be the easiest vote I’ve ever taken … but I can’t do it.
I supported consolidation to make county government more efficient and provide better services to our citizens. However I recognize that our outreach could have been better. That’s why I scheduled a public meeting on this issue almost immediately after taking office.
Over the next 30 years, the project will save taxpayers millions and deliver a free-and-clear, like-new building to the next generation, leaving it in a considerably better situation than we find ourselves in today.
I ran for council, in part, on the promise to get control of the county’s budget – which remains unsustainable despite deep cuts to important services like public safety, roads and parks.
I made a commitment to shake up the system and put it back together in a way that provides far better services at a lower cost. To me, this is the first step in that process.
Derek Young represents the 7th District on the Pierce County Council. Contact him at www.piercecountywa.org/district7.