Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier underscored the power of partnerships as he delivered his annual State of the County address today.
Speaking to a packed room at the County-City Building, Dammeier discussed some of the most significant issues facing the region, including public safety, behavioral health, homelessness and economic development. He stressed the need to collaborate with others to bring effective, lasting solutions.
Dammeier began his 30-minute address by acknowledging those in law enforcement, first responders and the military. He announced a proposal to create a new memorial in Pierce County to honor law enforcement and firefighters killed in the line of duty. “This afternoon, I will submit to our Council a request for funding to build a memorial worthy of those who gave their lives in service to others – a place where our citizens can honor and reflect upon their sacrifice. We must never forget.”
To support veterans, Dammeier announced the County has entered into an agreement with the national Cohen Veterans Network to open a new facility that provides treatment for post 9-11 veterans and their families. Veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental health challenges will get help regardless of insurance or the ability to pay. The clinic is expected to be open in Lakewood, Wash. by the end of the summer.
Dammeier also highlighted several programs designed to provide proactive intervention and effective follow up treatment for those dealing with behavioral health challenges.
The Mobile Community Intervention Response Team (or MCIRT), launched late last year, features teams of mental health and human services professional in mobile vans that reach out to people in crisis. Many of those people they meet are frequent utilizers of EMS and 911.
Dammeier pointed out that last year the same 22 people with behavioral health needs made more than 100 calls per month to 911. “Once we started the MCIRT, these calls dropped to about 40 a month – a 60 percent reduction,” Dammeier said. “This represents a massive savings of time for our first responders and more appropriate care for the callers.”
Dammeier provided an update on progress toward building a new crisis stabilization center in Pierce County. People in crisis will have another source of support when it opens next year. “Thanks to partners at Optum, the Accountable Community of Health, the Council and other partners, we have secured $6 million in funding to build a new crisis center where it’s needed most – the Parkland/Spanaway area,” Dammeier said. He noted that the center will treat upwards of 2,000 individuals each year.
During the Point-in-Time homeless count in January, volunteers counted a total of 1,628 people without a home – nearly 900 of them in area shelters and another 750 simply out in the cold.
Dammeier focused on a new initiative starting this summer called the Homeless Empowerment Labor Program (or HELP). Modeled after a program in Albuquerque designed to end panhandling, HELP will provide people experiencing homelessness with a job for the day. When the workday is over, workers receive their pay and can also access other services such as job training and counseling.
Dammeier also talked about encouraging private sector job creation to lift people out of poverty long-term. He mentioned the work underway to simplify zoning by reducing the current 105 different commercial zones to five. He also discussed reducing upfront fees businesses are charged to connect to the county’s sewer system encourage investment in Pierce County.
Dammeier emphasized the County’s commitment to preserving the environment and pointed out progress the County has made in reducing the amount of fuel used in the vehicle fleet. He also announced a study to evaluate the potential of converting the County’s ferry system to electric power.
Dammeier also announced he is submitting a Charter amendment request to the Council today to allow the County to adopt two-year budgets instead of the current annual budget. “This is how the state and many other local governments budget. It is more efficient, encourages us to plan over a longer term, and frees up more time for the critical work of evaluating program performance,” Dammeier said.
The Executive concluded his remarks by discussing a series of programs to increase access and transparency for County residents. New initiatives under an “Open Pierce County” drive will bring robust data, performance information and budget statistics to readily accessible online portals.