I first want to congratulate this year’s graduating seniors. The end of your time in high school was unlike others, and this probably wasn’t how you expected to experience these rites of passage, but you met the challenges and should be proud of your accomplishments.
The last year has been traumatic for everyone. Whether COVID-19 directly impacted your health, your work, or because you had to juggle it all with remote school, we’re all ready for a return to normalcy. That’s now happening as case counts and hospitalizations decline with more people getting vaccinated. As such, the Pierce County Council is transitioning its focus from emergency response to recovery.
With four new members, we’ve seen many changes. This year I was elected by my colleagues to serve as chair of the council and the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health.
I also continued to represent Washington counties as co-chair of our Legislative Steering Committee. With the Legislature’s business primarily focused on services delivered by counties like justice, housing and public health, we were busy.
Over the next two years, Pierce County will receive nearly $175 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). To address the emergent needs of residents, businesses and nonprofit partners, the council appropriated an initial $50.5 million to help the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding highlights included our public health response, business grants, housing and homelessness, behavioral health, support for food banks, youth job corps and summer programming for kids.
The council is now turning its attention to our mid- to long-term needs: rebuilding Pierce County stronger than before the crisis. We’re wrapping up plans to construct a fiber broadband network in under-served parts of the county, like the Key Peninsula. We also plan to make a significant investment in affordable housing. Unlike the CARES Act, which went entirely to counties, Congress split ARPA with cities, so we’ve begun meeting with them to ensure we coordinate our plans to stretch these dollars as far as possible.
Though our focus is on the pandemic and recovery, the threat of climate change didn’t go away. That’s why one of the first significant actions by the council was to adopt Sustainability 2030: Pierce County Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. We set a bold target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% across Pierce County operations and the larger community by 2030. The next step is to implement strategies outlined in the plan.
More locally, thanks to seed funding provided by the council two years ago, and a recent state grant, our partners from the Recreational Boating Association of Washington are closing the purchase of Lakebay Marina. The purchase preserves a piece of the Key Peninsula’s history, protects Puget Sound and improves access to the water for everyone.
We recently appointed a behavioral health advisory board charged with helping us improve our system with new funding. Expect to see investments in additional therapeutic courts, treatment, law enforcement co-responders and proactive mobile outreach.
Hard to believe, but we’ve already begun our biennial budget process with the council. These initial discussions will inform more focused deliberations this fall and give the county executive a chance to hear the council’s priorities before submitting his own proposal. This will be my final biennial budget before term-limiting next year, so I plan to lay the groundwork to ensure my replacement’s success.
While there’s not much good that came from the COVID-19 pandemic, we did learn some new ways of doing business on the fly that we’ll want to keep. The council is transitioning from remote-only meetings into a hybrid model that will enable the public and members to participate without traveling to Tacoma. Members will typically be in the council chambers, but we’ll no longer feel compelled to come in sick or miss family obligations. For the public, particularly in more remote parts of the county, that means you can continue participating by computer or phone.
As always, if we can assist you with any aspect of Pierce County government, please feel free to call us at 253-798-6654.
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