Pierce County Council outlines budget priorities

Opening a new jail housing unit and planning for a new jail, developing a strategy for hiring more law-enforcement officers and continued improvements to the county’s permitting process are among the items the Pierce County Council wants to see funded in the county’s 2008 budget.

“It’s important for us to go on record with the executive about our budget priorities for the coming year,” said Council Chair Terry Lee. “Since the council must approve the budget, it should reflect the input of each councilmember.”

Resolution R2007-64 – which the council passed this week – responds to the county executive’s request for councilmembers’ early input on their 2008 budget priorities. The council should receive the executive’s preliminary budget by Sept. 24.

To address the urgent need for more corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies, councilmembers want funding for a strategy to address the current hiring obstacles and provide alternatives for filling entry-level vacancies. Although several positions have been filled since the beginning of the year, there were five to six Sheriff’s Department openings and between 28 and 29 openings for corrections officers as of June 4.

Councilmembers also want to open an additional housing unit at the Pierce County Jail. Early “compliance” releases are increasing and the council intends to provide the executive with funding for more beds. Currently, two 84-bed housing units in the new jail remain empty and one 76-bed unit in the original jail will be available when remodeled.

The council also realizes the need to plan for a new county jail and to increase funding of alternatives to incarceration.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that our county’s increasing growth brings a need for more criminal-justice services,” Lee said, “but we need to be prepared for that reality now rather than later.”

The council also supports:

— enhanced funding for the Farm Assistance, Revitalization and Marketing (FARM) program, the traffic-calming program and the removal of illegal signs in the county right of way;

— funding to create a Trail Assistance Office in the Parks Department;

— fully staffing the three unfilled engineering positions in the Planning and Land Services and Public Works and Utilities departments;

— continued implementation of the recommendations of last year’s Planning and Land Services (PALS) performance audit, which sought seeks to improve the department’s organization and shorten wait times for building permits;

— adding $200,000 to the Veterans’ Relief Fund and providing a minimum of $250,000 to the Arts Commission and $325,000 to senior centers;

— funding to examine whether Pierce County should provide county services in satellite offices in outlying parts of the county.