On Nov. 13 Pierce County Council approved a budget for 2013 that will reduce general government spending. The general fund, which pays for a majority of government services, will drop from $275.6 million to $274.8 million. Total spending will be $894 million, an increase of more than $50 million. Much of this is due to the expansion of the Chambers Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. The budget was approved by a 7-0 vote. It does not include a cost-of-living adjustment for employees. Instead, some of that savings will be directed to the Sheriff’s Department. The council decided to restore four vacant positions in the Sheriff’s Department, at a cost of $400,000. County Executive Pat McCarthy had proposed cutting these positions. It will also increase funding for parks maintenance by $180,000, reduce overall county employment by 42 positions and place an additional $826,000 in reserves.
“Above all, this budget demonstrates our commitment to public safety,” said Council Chair Joyce McDonald of Puyallup. “This is a responsible and fiscally sound budget. We must remain mindful of the ongoing uncertainty about the economy, which is why we cannot in good faith include a cost-of-living adjustment for employees or elected officials. “This budget keeps Pierce County on the path of steady fiscal management that maintains stability and security for our communities,” said Council member Rick Talbert of Tacoma. The budget will reduce surface water management fees by $5 per residence to offset a new tax for the Flood Control Zone District. The board for this new district approved a countywide property tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax will be collected starting next year and will cost the average homeowner about $25 per year. Last April Pierce County Council created the new taxing district to generate revenue for flood-control measures. Under state law, it could collect up to 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax will generate about $6.9 million per year for rebuilding levees, purchasing flood-prone land and other measures.
Officials in some cities not affected by flooding, such as Milton, have voiced objections to being subjected to the new tax. The board consists of the seven council members. The vote for the tax was 5-2. The no votes were cast by Republicans Dan Roach of Bonney Lake and Dick Muri of Steilacoom. Brian Ziegler, public works and utilities director for the county, said some of the money generated by the flood-control tax will fund efforts that up to now have been funded through the surface water management fee. Ziegler told the council that officials in some cities feel the county is inappropriately shifting some obligations to the new flood-control district. The budget now goes to McCarthy, who has 10 days from its arrival to sign it or veto it.