Gateway: Opinion

Commentary: Looking ahead to 2018 in Pierce County

Derek Young
Derek Young

Last month the Pierce County Council unanimously passed the 2018 budget which was signed into law by Executive Bruce Dammeier. This is the third budget I’ve been part of since joining the County Council (my 19th in local government) and I’m particularly proud of the way this one turned out. Some of the fiscal reforms I proposed should leave the County in a much better financial position going forward. These changes also result in a more equitable distribution of our tax dollars to each community, particularly more rural areas.

I’m pleased by the increased investments we’ve made to essential services such as public safety and behavioral health. I sponsored creation of a Veteran’s Therapeutic Court.

Here are some appropriations that are important to peninsula residents:

▪ Four new positions for the Sheriff’s Department (Peninsula Detachment will no longer have to share a lieutenant with the Foothills Detachment).

▪ Funding for Red Barn, Communities in Schools, Key Peninsula Family Resource Center, Safe Streets, and Peninsula Youth Suicide Prevention.

▪ Doubled the support for park capital projects on the peninsulas.

▪ Construction should begin on two intersections that have long been a problem for Gig Harbor. Stone Rd/Pt. Fosdick Dr will have a new roundabout, reducing the danger of the blind curve. Near Purdy Elementary and Peninsula High School, 144th St/62nd Ave will have a new signal and turn lane. The improvement should improve safety and congestion.

▪ We appropriated $1.2 million for completion of the Fox Island Bridge Type/Size/Location study. This second phase will give us a better picture of the preliminary design, cost, and funding strategy for replacement.

Addressing changes for Next Generation 911

The Pierce County Council on Dec. 12 approved changes to addresses on Key Peninsula, Fox Island and Anderson Island that will bring the addresses into compliance with federal Next Generation 911 standards.

The changes will also make it easier for first responders, including those from outside of the area who assist during disasters or major emergencies to find properties.

Next Generation 911 is a system that allows the public to contact 911 via text messages, as well as through phone calls. Under Next Generation 911 standards, addresses must meet U.S. Postal Service standards before the 911 system is upgraded. Most Pierce County addresses meet these standards, while the addresses on Key Peninsula, Fox Island and Anderson Island do not due to their current directionals.

More than 16,000 property owners will receive a notice in January 2018 with their new official address. The changes will go into effect April 1, 2018, although the new addresses should be used for emergency services calls starting in January 2018.

Responding to the Opioid Epidemic

This year I convened a task force representing agencies across Pierce County in emergency medical services, criminal justice, treatment, and public health experts to develop a countywide action agenda in response to the opioid epidemic.

In February, we’ll host a summit of leaders from across the county to introduce the proposal, and gather feedback before implementation.

Additionally, the council authorized the county prosecutor to initiate litigation against Purdue Pharmaceutical and other major pharmaceutical companies for their role in the opioid epidemic. The vote came after months of research and a recommendation by the prosecutor, Mark Lindquist. The purpose of the lawsuit is to seek injunctive relief, meaning court orders seeking specific policy changes that will help reduce the occurrence of addiction, injury and deaths from opioid abuse.

We’ll also be seeking monetary awards for the impacts to the county’s justice, health and human services systems, as well as the cost of treatment necessary to reverse those effects.

Opioid manufacturers profited from business practices that have done enormous damage to our community. We intend to make them pay for it.

Looking ahead

Last year we began the process of updating community plans across the county. Some were badly out of date, and I was surprised to find that the Council had not kept its promise to revisit the plans on a more regular basis. We started with the urban communities in central Pierce County and this year we’ll begin work on the Gig Harbor Community Plan. We’ll have many opportunities for the public to provide input throughout the process.

In addition to my Council duties, I represent Pierce County on several external boards and commissions. This year I’ll co-chair the Washington State Association of Counties Legislative Steering Committee. We represent counties in Olympia and I’ll be there to work on issues of particular importance to our area.

The first is on rural water rights. Since the State Supreme Court’s Hirst decision on exempt wells late last year, we’ve tried to help negotiate a solution that would protect senior water rights and the environment. Last month WSAC made a proposal that we believe satisfies the concerns from all sides.

Funding for criminal justice is another top priority. Criminal justice is a state obligation that counties carry out the state’s behalf. Providing adequate funding not only reduces the strain to county budgets, it also ensures a uniform system of justice. Washington is dead last among states in the share of funding for the criminal justice system paid by the state.

Pierce County is disproportionately burdened by the lack of state support. We have more felony charges than King County but half the judges, prosecutors and public defenders. With the bulk of our general fund already dedicated to public safety and justice services, there’s no room to hire additional deputies or fund critical behavioral health services without action by the Legislature.

As always, you can also contact my office with your questions, suggestions, or concerns at (253) 798-6654 or by email at