Politics & Government

Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health commits health department to joining proposed county administration building

The Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health committed Wednesday to relocating the health department to a proposed new county administration building nearby.

The board voted unanimously to work with Pierce County and the City of Tacoma to find an “equitable financial solution” for moving the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

The resolution doesn’t resolve how the department’s added costs would be paid. The health department says it doesn’t have money to pay it.

The board revised a proposed resolution that had made relocation contingent upon the City of Tacoma and Pierce County paying any additional annual costs beyond the department’s facility costs for 2015. That yearly gap is estimated to be $400,000, department spokeswoman Edie Jeffers said.

The County Council won’t decide whether to go ahead with the project until November or December.

The health department building at 3629 S. D St. is located about a block away from where the new county administration building would be built on a site that includes former Puget Sound Hospital.

The health department’s relocation would add about 55,000 square feet to the originally proposed 235,000-square-foot project.

The cost of the building would increase by $16.5 million – from $70.5 million to $87 million.

Board Chairman Stan Flemming recommended the revision to continue “to work collaboratively” with the county and city. He said the change will “keep open all the options that we have before us.”

Flemming, who is also a County Council member, said one option is for the health department to contract with the county for services to reduce costs.

Another option, he said, is for the health department to become part of county government. The county already funds a significant share of the health department budget — for 2015, it would pay $3.2 million, or 11 percent, of the proposed $30.5 million health department budget.

Flemming said County Executive Pat McCarthy had requested the original resolution be modified or dropped.

The original resolution called upon Pierce County and the City of Tacoma to pay debt service, capital, operating and maintenance costs for the department to relocate beyond its budgeted facility costs for next year.

McCarthy said earlier Wednesday the county and City of Tacoma don’t have extra money to pay for the health department’s relocation.

“I don’t think it’s realistic,” she said about the original resolution.

Board member Rick Talbert, another County Council member, said the revision allows the health board to continue to look for savings in efficiencies and shared services with the county.

“Ultimately, the functions and responsibilities of this health department fall on the shoulders of the county,” Talbert said.

Officials have said it’s not viable for the health department to stay in its current headquarters long term.

The 38-year-old building – which the county owns – needs $15 million worth of deferred maintenance. That cost would be the county’s responsibility.