Op-Ed

Vote yes to reject costly new county services building

Jerry Gibbs is chairman of Citizens for Responsible Spending
Jerry Gibbs is chairman of Citizens for Responsible Spending

I urge you to vote "yes" on Referendum 2015-1 on the Pierce County ballot and kill the plan to spend $230 million on a palace for county services in Tacoma.

Here are some reasons the plan deserves to die:

▪ Be skeptical of cost savings. The cost of the new building is $230 million over 30 years, but current leases would cost $100 million (to be adjusted up or down over 30 years from inflation or lease renegotiation).

Annual payments on the new building will be approximately $8 million, but current leases total $3.2 million and include maintenance costs. Pierce County must also pay to maintain the new building. Considering the county's track record of deferring maintenance on buildings it owns, that are in disrepair today, can we trust it to maintain a new building?

▪ The planned savings of more than $100 million is solely based on a plan to lay off 38 full-time employees. Again, be skeptical. The 2016 budget, just issued by the executive, plans for no layoffs and because of the growing needs in Pierce County asks to hire 12 more FTEs.

How can the county lay off 38 to pay for the new building when it needs to hire 12 this year alone?

A payment/financial plan based on government worker layoffs is fatally flawed.

▪ Ask who are the customers that benefit by putting all 19 departments in one location? There are 623,000 people served by Pierce County who live outside the city. Most get the service they need at the existing annex, where the auditor, assessor-treasurer, and planning and land services are located.

These are the services used by the majority of the people and those services are already co-located at the annex, in a building the county already owns that needs some TLC. The number of developers, lawyers and other professionals who would benefit from all 19 departments in one location are very few. You can't ask all the taxpayers to pay for a convenience that benefits the very few.

▪ Must we spend $230 million to improve the efficiency in Pierce County services?

Efficiency is occurring naturally and quickly in our world today because of technology. Pierce County leads the state in utilizing technology to access our government services with the click of a mouse, not the automobile. The court systems and recently the planning and land services department are proof of that.

Ask yourself, how has technology changed the way you access government? What will the need be in 30 years? This building could become obsolete before it's paid for.

If you don't believe this prediction, Google the Wheeler Building in Olympia. It became almost obsolete the day it opened because of technological advances, and the state now has to subsidize these lease payments to the tune of $33 million. How will technological advances affect the need for the new county building in the future?

Before we spend $230 million for 30 years, we must be sure of the need.

Let’s go back to the drawing board and get a better plan. Vote “yes” to reject Referendum 2015-1.

Jerry Gibbs of Gig Harbor is chairman of Citizens for Responsible Spending, a bipartisan grass-roots group that advocates for responsible spending in local government and the group that filed the original referendum against Pierce County’s general services building project. The Navy veteran retired from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard as a reactor servicing production department manager.

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