Op-Ed

Customer Services Building is a simple solution

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy

At first glance, it might be easy to think the proposed Pierce County Customer Services Building is a complicated project. In reality, it takes only a few numbers to understand that the building is in the best interest of county taxpayers.

The first numbers are 19, 14 and 1. This project takes 19 different county divisions, currently scattered in 14 separate locations and centralizes them into one modern, efficient building. Simply stated, operating 19 divisions in 14 different buildings is highly inefficient and expensive.

The second set of numbers is 8, 156 and 0. Eight is the number of locations Pierce County leases to house some of the 19 divisions. The county would spend $156 million over the next 30 years if it continued to lease those buildings. Zero is how much equity taxpayers will have in those leased buildings after spending $156 million. Think about that: spending $156 million and nothing to show for it.

People buy rather than rent homes for a reason. If they know they are likely to be in their home for years, buying makes excellent economic sense. We know Pierce County will be here in 30 years, so why not own instead of just paying rent?

A great example is the County-City Building. It was built in 1959 for approximately $11 million. To replace it would cost more than $200 million in today’s dollars. That’s a lot of equity.

The third set of numbers is 1,100, 14 and 38. There are 1,100 employees who would move from the 14 different locations. There are 38 redundant positions that would be eliminated by co-locating those employees in one building. The 38 number has been validated by independent outside auditors.

It has been suggested that the county administration doesn’t know how to cut 38 positions. Really? In my first two years as county executive, the number of employees went from 3,500 down to 2,925. More than 500 positions were eliminated. We have clearly demonstrated the ability to reduce staff while maintaining and even improving service.

The last set of numbers are 2, 1 and 0. To make sure our business plan was well conceived, we asked two former Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce presidents to conduct a thorough analysis. Both are highly experienced and ran large organizations. They unequivocally said build it.

A study conducted by Moss Adams also convinced us a new building was the way to go. And finally, the innovative financing we want to use for construction means zero new taxes will be needed. None.

When I use these numbers to explain how the proposed Customer Services Building could save millions, increase efficiency, reduce the county’s payroll and cost not a single cent more in taxes, the typical reaction has been a slap to the forehead and a “What a no-brainer!”

It’s not complicated. On Nov. 3, vote “no” on Referendum 2015-1 to allow this worthwhile project to go forward.

Pat McCarthy is the Pierce County executive.

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