Will more talking mend relationship between Lakewood and regional planning giant?

In late April, it looked as if the city of Lakewood might attempt to rally the rest of Pierce County to withdraw from the Puget Sound Regional Council, a four-county planning conglomerate that doles out nearly $250 million a year in federal transportation money.

Frustrated with what they see as the King-County-centered decisions of the regional council, Lakewood officials were pondering whether it made sense for Pierce County to abandon the council, which also includes King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, and fight for federal funding on its own.

“We don’t feel like we’re being heard,” Lakewood city manager John Caulfield told The News Tribune on Wednesday.

But after an independent study and additional discussions with the regional council, Lakewood is looking to a new solution: more effective communication.

A step toward that was made on June 12 when Lakewood and University Place officials used a joint meeting to air their grievances directly to Josh Brown, the executive director of the regional council.

Topics of conversation included a number of sore points with Pierce County municipalities, including:

▪ The creation of new frameworks for establishing regional growth centers, which receive priority for federal money.

▪ Recognition of military installments as employment centers.

▪ Disagreements with the regional council about local population growth targets.

University Place has been working to achieve regional-growth-center status for over 20 years, Mayor pro-tem Kent Keel said, but each time the city gets close, “the goalposts continue to move.”

When the requirements change, it costs the city more time and money to meet them, University Place Mayor Javier Figueroa said.

Although no policy solutions were reached at the joint meeting, officials from both University Place and Lakewood said they felt their concerns were heard.

“I think (Brown) did feel our frustration,” University Place City Councilwoman Caroline Belleci told The News Tribune, adding that she remains skeptical of the regional council and its priorities.

Brown told The News Tribune last week he “heard from them loud and clear,” adding that he was appreciative of the chance to meet Pierce County officials in person.

And at the June 12 meeting he told Lakewood and University Place officials he thought things could be worked out.

Brown said during that meeting that as Kitsap County Commissioner from 2007-2013 he asked whether his county — the smallest of the four — was getting a fair cut. In the end, he came to the conclusion it was a “good deal,” he said.

Lakewood has had its doubts.

In April, Lakewood commissioned a study to evaluate funding decisions made by the regional council and the structure of the organization. It also asked a consultant to study the potential for Pierce County to withdraw from regional council altogether and create its own planning organization.

The study recommended that Pierce County remain in the regional council but seek alliances with other jurisdictions and engage in greater involvement within the organization.

The county got a leg-up on that last month with the election of Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier as vice president of the regional council.

“Pierce County is going to have strong leadership at the very top of the PSRC organization,” Caulfield said, much like when when former Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy was PSRC president.