Gateway: Opinion

County Councilman details year in review

Pierce County Councilman Derek Young
Pierce County Councilman Derek Young Courtesy

As we come to the close of 2015, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for the opportunity to serve our community this year. It’s truly been a privilege and honor to represent you on the Pierce County Council. I appreciate the trust voters place in me and will continue working hard to earn it. We’ve had a busy year and I thought this would be a good time to recap what’s been happening.

In addition to my regular Council duties, I serve on the Community Development (vice-chair), Public Safety & Human Services and Performance Audit Committees. I also serve on a number of external boards including the National Association of Counties Health Policy Committee, Washington State Association of Counties State & Federal Legislative Steering Committee, Puget Sound Regional Council’s Growth Management Policy Board, Pierce County Regional Council, Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, and the Rainier Communication Commission (vice-president).

Budget breakdown

For the County Council, the budget is our single most important responsibility and authority.

Many people don’t realize that 78 percent of our discretionary general fund budget already goes to public safety and justice services. Even still, one could argue the sheriff’s department, prosecutor, and courts are badly underfunded. Each have seen dramatic staff cuts over the last several years. Without the resources to respond to much more than the most serious crimes, property crime in Pierce County has increased substantially, particularly on our side of the bridge. This is probably the most common complaint call we receive at my office.

Accordingly, I was proud to support creation of a Property Crime Unit in the Sheriff’s Department. At more than $1 million, this is the largest change in the budget and will focus on the highest priority criminals causing the bulk of the problem.

Our side of the bridge saw another important victory in the budget with respect to parks.

Frustrated by the lack of park services in unincorporated areas, voters outside the City of Gig Harbor formed metropolitan park districts to supplement park spending. Unfortunately in recent years that’s also meant that we continue to pay into Pierce County’s Park Department without seeing any benefit in our community. For the first time since Councilman Terry Lee was in office, the park districts will receive a portion of our real estate excise dollars. In the coming year I’ve also proposed a similar change to allow for park impact fees to be returned to the metro park districts as well.

Also included in the budget is funding for the Key Peninsula Civic Center, Key Peninsula Resource Center, Red Barn, and for the first-time, toll reimbursement for jurors.

Land use and environment

This year I sponsored passage of two huge updates to our code. The first was the long overdue Shoreline Management Program (SMP) update which had been in the works for years. It protects critical habitat and limits the expansion of geoduck farming along our shoreline.

The second was the once a decade Comprehensive Plan update mandated by the State’s Growth Management Act. The Comp Plan touches just about everything we do in local government land use to infrastructure. As part of the update, we protected thousands of acres of prime farmland.

Health concerns

One issue that is a high priority for me at the local, state, and even federal level of mine is behavioral health. Since the start of the Great Recession, behavioral health has seen savage cuts. In all other urban counties they have been able to backfill some of those services while Pierce County has been slow to respond.

As a result, Council member Ladenburg and I sponsored a comprehensive analysis of our system and its deficiencies which should be complete in the spring. We also joined the “Stepping Up for Mental Health” program, a National Association of Counties initiative to divert mentally ill inmates at the jail from incarceration to treatment.

Over the next year I expect to spend much of my time on the growing and related problems of mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness, and their interaction with our criminal justice system.

Constituent services

While policy and budget matters do play a large role of what I work on, my office also works directly with residents in District 7 on solving issues, performing research, and making Pierce County government work better. It has been our pleasure to work with hundreds of residents over the last year. Please contact my office if you are need of any assistance dealing with any area of Pierce County government.

Pierce County Councilman Derek Young can be reached at (253) 798-7776 or by email at derek.young@co.pierce.wa.us.

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