Pierce County budget bolsters public safety

Public safety programs — including services targeting gang activity — will be significantly strengthened under the 2012 budget adopted by the Pierce County Council on Tuesday, Nov. 8. The budget, approved on a 7-0 vote, adds five crime-fighting positions to the Sheriff’s Department and preserves funding for the Prosecuting Attorney’s gang unit, which would have run out of grant funding. Approximately 79 percent of the General Fund is dedicated to public safety and criminal justice.

County leaders noted that, unlike city and state governments, there’s no need to make drastic cuts to services. That’s because Pierce County has been carefully making cuts for three years. Since 2008, total county spending is down approximately 9 percent, and county employment has been cut by 14 percent.

Thirteen out of 20 bargaining units have agreed to 2012 contracts with no cost of living adjustment, and negotiations continue with the other units. The Council cut $500,000 from Juvenile Court based on the results of a performance audit released in October, after Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy submitted her budget proposal. The number of youths incarcerated in Remann Hall has plummeted 75 percent in recent years, which echoes regional and national trends. The audit recommended a number of changes that can be made to operate Remann Hall more efficiently without compromising safety.

The budget allocates $273.6 million for the General Fund, which is the main discretionary account that funds public safety and other core programs. Total spending, including grants and fee-supported services, is approximately $802 million. The budget cuts approximately 23 General Fund positions, bringing the total number of cuts since 2008 to 289. Including all funds, the county will have cut 482 positions through next year.

Executive McCarthy has 10 days to act on the package of ordinances and resolutions that contain the 2012 spending plan. The legislation is available here.