Department shift for Pierce County's historic preservation program?

A Pierce County Councilmember is expected next month to propose moving the county’s historic preservation office from the Planning and Land Services (PALS) department to the Economic Development department.

If supported and approved by a majority of councilmembers, the move could pave the way for a full-time historic preservation officer, according to Pierce County Councilmember Tim Farrell, who is spearheading the plan.

Currently, the county’s historic preservation officer splits her time between preservation and county-wide planning unrelated to preservation. Under Farrell’s plan, “the position would be made whole and this would be a new position that anyone could apply for,” says Farrell. The model is similar to the one at the City of Tacoma, where the historic preservation office has for years been a division of the city’s Economic Development Department.

“Since the landmarks commission really is the holder of Pierce County’s first real assets and stimulus dollars county-wide, it makes sense that it should be under economic development,” says Farrell.

In 2007, the county discovered a pool of money slated to be used for historic preservation. The money had accrued as a result of state legislation enacted in 2005. The legislation directed $1 of a $5 filing fee toward “historic preservation and historical programming, which may include document preservation.”

Between 2005 and 2008 the revenue from the surcharge reached just over $1 million, according to county officials.

In November 2007, the county council approved an ordinance directing $366,000 for a historic property survey, $60,000 for a historic document survey, $200,000 for a grant program, $37,000 to turn the half-time historic preservation officer into a full-time position, and $37,000 for a part-time grant writer.

However, the county has only spent money on some of those directives.

According to budget and finance director Patrick Kenney, budget manager Aaron BeMiller, and legislative budget analyst Paul Bocchi, who all provided financial information for a summary prepared by the advocacy organization Historic Tacoma earlier this month (that document is available at ), $173,529 was expended in 2006 for “internal purposes”; $65,524 was expended in 2008 for a grant program and funding for the part-time preservation officer; this year, $100,000 has been allocated for document preservation purposes, and $108,000 for historical document microfilming, records retention and management, and other state archivist related expenditures department-wide. Subtracting those expenditures — roughly $446,000 — from the $1 million pool would leave approximately $554,000 for historic preservation, historical programming, and document preservation.

To its credit, the county did award approximately $195,000 in grants to more than a dozen local preservation groups for various projects last year. The money will be paid out to the organizations on a reimbursement basis.

PALS director Chuck Kleeberg says Farrell has approached him about the idea and that he doesn’t feel strongly one way or another if the office is moved. “Mostly what you worry about is coordination between departments,” says Kleeberg. “I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of coordination between [PALS and] what the historic preservation officer does. I don’t feel like there’s a strong need to be in one place versus the other.”

Farrell says the plan will be introduced to the county council in April, after budget amendments are adopted March 31.

“Right now, I’m offering it to my council colleagues,” says Farrell. “It doesn’t mean they’ll go for it.”

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For earlier Index coverage of Pierce County historic preservation, see the following:

1. Pierce County Council Committee will discuss proposed historic preservation funding cuts (03/06/09) —

2. Will $8 million budget shortfall touch Pierce County historic preservation? (01/29/09) —

3. Behind The Times (04/02/08) — .

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