County Council Update


Councilman Derek Young (D-Gig Harbor)

School Bond

In the wake of the school bond vote narrowly failing to reach the required supermajority, a question I get asked quite a bit is, “What’s next?”

A couple of weeks ago, I met with Stand Up for Peninsula Schools, our local education advocacy group. It’s clear the desire to try again is as strong as the need. The main question is when and what work needs to be accomplished first. Those are difficult questions the school board must wrestle with in coming months and I would encourage everyone to reach out with their thoughts.

There is an unquestionable need for a capital measure. Even the “No” campaign concedes that our facilities do not live up to our community’s values. The question is how best to add new capacity and fix existing deficiencies. 

While it’s clear the bond measure was very popular in some neighborhoods, in others, including parts of the Key Peninsula, it didn’t have as much support. Reaching out to those areas is important to understand voters’ concerns and how to address them. We also need to make sure the projects in their area are well known. I occasionally hear from folks on the Key Peninsula that those schools were not getting improvements. That’s not the case but the confusion may be because of a previous measure from several years ago.

Over the longer term, we need a constitutional amendment. The supermajority requirement for school bonds is an anachronism designed for the unique concerns of a state emerging from the Depression and still fighting World War II. The belief at the time was that after the rapid growth of Washington during the war, there would be a population bust, leaving property owners holding the bag. Conditions have changed.

More importantly, it’s antidemocratic. If a candidate received 59 percent of the vote, we’d call it a landslide and talk about the candidate’s overwhelming mandate. Legislators should put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to consider, just as they did for school levies several years ago.

Legislative Session: I have the privilege of co-chairing legislative efforts for the Washington State Association of Counties. Constitutionally, counties are agents of the state, charged with delivering services on its behalf at the local level. We are happy to implement the legislature’s wishes, but for many years, the Legislators haven’t been willing to pay the bill to make it happen.

Because 75-plus percent of county general funds already go to public safety and justice services and most of the remainder to other requirements like elections, recording and assessment, we don’t have many options when new unfunded mandates are added. 

With $1.2 billion in unexpected state revenue announced early in the session, we believed this would be the time to make some progress on restoring our budgets, allowing counties to bolster public safety services. Instead, we find ourselves with $15.5 million in new unfunded mandates. That means fewer deputies on the street or prosecutors and judges to hold criminals accountable.

Last month, our county board and legislative strategy committee approved a new advocacy and litigation strategy aimed at reversing this trend, either through legislative action in the next year or by the courts. 

Tolls: In happier news, our work last year on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Toll Refinance Work Group has paid off. Although it’s not everything we hoped for, tolls will remain capped for another couple of years and are ultimately capped to a 25-cent increase. As always, we depended on the advocacy of the 26th District delegation (thank you, Sen. Angel and Reps. Caldier and Young), but recently those efforts have garnered new allies on the other side of the Narrows, a critical component to success. We’ll need to keep building alliances to solve the problem, but for the first time, we have a ceiling on toll rates written into law.

Derek Young represents the 7th District, including the Key Peninsula, on the Pierce County Council.