City, County join forces on moratorium issue: Joint task force will address ‘fair share’ responsibilities of counties statewide regarding housing for high-risk

City and county officials will create an intergovernmental task force to focus on the statewide responsibilities of counties to share the burden of housing and service facilities for high-risk and high-needs populations, according to yesterday’s joint meeting of Public Safety and Human Service Committees.

The intergovernmental task force — which will consist of city and county councilmembers, social service providers, the state Department of Corrections (DOC), community leaders, and area residents — is part of a city ordinance passed May 17 that calls for a six-month moratorium on new group homes in Tacoma. The ordinance also instructs the city to explore possible changes to the municipal code regarding the location and dispersal of group homes and other facilities, and to create a blue-ribbon panel to study issues relating to standards of care and community relations for programs that serve high-risk populations.

During yesterday’s meeting, city and county officials expressed concerns over what they believed to be a disproportionate number of the state’s high-risk and high-needs populations landing in treatment facilities and group homes in Tacoma and Pierce County.

“Pierce County has gotten more than its fair share of these individuals,” said Pierce County Councilwoman Barbara Gelman.

“We have a burden to bear,” added Helen McGovern, Deputy Mayor of Lakewood. “It’s just that we’re bearing too much of that burden.”

Many members of the committees pointed to Snohomish County, which they accused of not carrying a fair share of the burden. In the past, government officials and county residents have successfully stopped the DOC from creating work-release facilities in Snohomish County.

“Snohomish County has had a free ride for years,” said Pierce County Councilman Terry Lee.

Tacoma’s assistant city attorney Kyle Crews, who has researched the state’s “fair share” laws since the city’s May 17 moratorium, called Tacoma the “dropping off point” for the state’s sex offenders.

“We are one of 39 counties in the state,” said Randy Lewis, Tacoma’s government relations officer. “The other 38 counties are very happy to have us solve their problems. Other counties are perfectly willing to let Pierce County bear this burden. The question is, ‘What is our fair share in the state system?’”

Lewis told the committees that Snohomish County was largely successful by creating a “united front” in all levels of their government, and side-stepped the state legislature in Olympia. “They did it themselves,” Lewis said.

One reason for that success was the triple homicide in 1982 by a work release participant named Charles Rodman Campbell.

Deputy Mayor Connie Ladenburg, who has been charged with creating the intergovernmental task force, stressed that the city’s moratorium and the task force’s “fair share” focus was pointed at so-called “rogue providers” operating in the region. “This is aimed at unlicensed service providers who hang a shingle and say, ‘I’m going to have drug and alcohol treatment in this house,’” she said. “A lot of providers are doing good things. Those providers need to be a part of this plan.”

Ladenburg added, “If we do some things to control and disperse licensed facilities in the county and set up a good model, we can showcase that model throughout the state.”