Pierce County Councilman Derek Young loves his job.
“I have everything,” he said. “I represent both the most liberal and the most conservative areas in Pierce County. My district runs the gamut of urban, suburban and rural with Ruston and parts of north and west Tacoma, the peninsulas and the islands. And, if I’m not mistaken, Representative Derek Kilmer and I are the only people in office whose districts cross Puget Sound.”
Young ran for the county position in 2014 after serving on the Gig Harbor City Council for 16 years. He describes his work as a county councilman as very similar: “Same language, different accent.”
Young saw the negative impact of suburban sprawl when he was growing up in Gig Harbor and his goal is to build sustainable cities while protecting rural areas and agricultural resource lands.
Young said the logging and shellfish industries are special concerns for the Key Peninsula. He noted that lands logged on the KP tend to be privately owned, small parcels, but that companies do the logging. He would like to see a tree-retention policy, which would require a meaningful buffer along roads and other measures.
Young also favors a zoning approach to shellfish aquaculture to prevent farming in areas of critical habitat. This would include intertidal areas where eelgrass grows.
Adequate funding for mental-health needs in Pierce County has been one of his longstanding concerns. Several years ago, both the state and federal government made deep cuts to community mental-health funding. Pierce County is the only urban county in the state that failed to fund the resulting gap. According to Young, while the average number of inpatient mental-health beds in the country is 26 per 100,000, Washington state stands at 16 and Pierce County at just two. A joint venture between CHI Franciscan and MultiCare Health to build a 100-bed facility at Allenmore Hospital in Tacoma will make a difference, but funding continues to be a problem.
Young and Councilmember Connie Ladenburg (D-4th district) sponsored a study to evaluate Pierce County needs, and they have proposed a one-tenth of 1 percent increase in sales tax to raise $10 million annually. A supermajority (five of seven) of council members must approve it. Young expects the proposal to pass this year.
Although Young knew that the sheriff’s department was underfunded when he ran for office, the depth of the problem came as a surprise. Eighty percent of the county general fund goes to law and justice services, so when the economic downturn came in 2008, the major budget impact was on those areas. One of the contributing factors was understaffing at the jail, resulting in overtime costs. The cuts have been reversed, and with new hiring, those overruns should be corrected. More patrol officers have been hired, but Young noted that has been mostly for urban areas. The Key Peninsula has largely been hit by property crimes, which are seen as less urgent.
Young expects that improvements in mental health and substance abuse treatment should help reduce property crimes. In addition, a community liaison position for the peninsulas was recently approved. This officer will be available to patrol but also to work on issues that might require a period of time to resolve, such as reported drug activity.
Parks funding was a relatively unexpected issue when Young came to office, but he was pleased to have found a likely solution. When Key Pen Parks was established, one of the unintended consequences was the loss of county funding. Young has worked on a budget amendment that will bring that money back to KP parks. In addition, he plans to increase the construction impact fee for parks from $300 to $2,500.
Young also discussed broadband access. “It’s our modern day equivalent of electrification.” He is sponsoring a study to evaluate broadband countywide and thinks the solutions will involve both financial and regulatory strategies. “Telecoms use public right of way, and the philosophy of public good coming from the use of public right of way goes back to Roman times,” he said.
Finally, reflecting on the election results, Young said he has always worked hard to collaborate and does not expect significant changes in his approach or outcomes. He said that the change in county executive might offer the biggest learning experience, since a new executive may want to make his own mark and have a different way of working with the council.
At the state level, the balance of power has not changed. Though he supported the Democratic candidates in the election, Young has a good working relationship with the local reelected representatives and said that will continue.
The national level results will lead to less federal funding for social services. “The buck really stops at the local level,” Young said. “We are the ones who provide the services and it will be us who decides how to deal with cuts and if we will need to find more funding.”
Of more concern to him was the tone of the election. “I hope Trump can offer some healing remarks,” Young commented, “but it will also be up to our community leaders to engage in conversations to understand and to heal.”
Councilman Young can be reached through www.co.pierce.wa.us or at 253-798-6654.