Pierce County | KNKX

Pierce County

"Gig Harbor, Washington State, USA" by Rick Obst is licensed under CC by 2.0 https://bit.ly/2Iuu4mr

All around the Puget Sound region, growing cities are scrambling to make room for new residents. 

But leaders in Gig Harbor, home to some of the region's wealthiest ZIP codes, are moving in the opposite direction, prompting a warning from state officials concerned about efforts to restrict home construction there. 

"Last light on Mt. Rainier, seen from Orting, WA" by ingawh is licensed under CC by 2.0 https://bit.ly/2pOJOo3

Traffic is one of the most visible consequences of our region’s population growth.

It’s getting worse around Seattle. It’s getting worse around Tacoma.

But it's also getting worse in the farthest reaches of rural Pierce County. And local leaders say it's more than a mere inconvenience. 

Darryl Dyck / AP Photo/The Canadian Press

Pierce County leaders took a first step Monday toward banning safe-injection sites in unincorporated parts of the county. 

A committee of the County Council voted 2-1 to send the proposal to the full council, where members could take a final vote as early as May. 

"Amazon headquarters sphere domes" by Kiewic is licensed under CC by 2.0 https://bitly.com/

Business leaders in King and Pierce counties took stock of the local economy at two separate summits Thursday, as they sought ways to harness the region's record job growth to solve pervasive problems.

"Moving day for Russell" by Scott Hingst is licensed under CC by 2.0 http://bit.ly/2Ft6FfX

State Farm Insurance is clearing out of Tacoma by the end of the year, the company said Thursday, meaning some 1,400 jobs will leave the city's downtown as local leaders name attracting employers as a top priority. 

Will James / KNKX

Scattered across Pierce County, and every corner of America, are people who fall through safety nets for the elderly, disabled, and those suffering from mental illness.

They struggle to care for themselves, but also aren't getting long-term medical care or social services. 

Some try to quietly manage mental illness or physical disabilities on their own. Others are elderly and isolated. Without friends and family looking after them, they deteriorate in their homes.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Pierce County is losing one quarter of its 64 psychiatric hospital beds for a year, as a provider relocates from its rented space at Western State Hospital. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Pierce County, claiming jail inmates with mental illness are treated poorly and denied access to care. 

"Mt. Rainier from Orting, WA" by Lana_aka_BADGRL is licensed under CC by 2.0 http://bit.ly/2Bslcqu

The nation's opioid addiction epidemic is a challenge for small, rural communities, where the fatal impacts can overwhelm local resources and treatment may be lacking. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Joel’s Law allows families in Washington state to petition a court to involuntarily commit a mentally ill loved one. In Pierce County, home to Tacoma, nearly 100 percent of petitions are granted, but in Seattle’s King County, most are rejected.

Will James / KNKX

Why would Amazon build its second headquarters just 30 miles from its first headquarters in Seattle? 

If you ask leaders in Tacoma, it's because their city has everything the retail giant loves about the Pacific Northwest, plus plenty of room to grow. 

Will James / KNKX

Pierce County's proposed 2018 budget includes a number of programs aimed at combating the interconnected crises of homelessness, addiction and mental illness. 

Among them: A plan to offer homeless people jobs as day laborers. 

Will James / KNKX

If you die, and nobody claims your body, it goes to your local county government.

Eventually, those cremated remains pile up, and it’s up to county officials to find them a resting place.

It's an oddly personal task for a local bureaucracy, and each one handles it differently.

"Mount Rainier from Murray Morgan Bridge" by SounderBruce is licensed under CC by 2.0 http://bit.ly/2tIy7iZ

Pierce County is one of three places chosen for a test run of the 2020 U.S. Census.

Federal officials plan to test their methodology in a "dress rehearsal" of the 10-year population survey starting next month, said Kori Novy, who is managing Pierce County's test Census.

PAULA WISSEL / KNKX

Pierce County's social services seem to be keeping pace with a growing homelessness problem, but they aren’t making headway.

That’s one conclusion from the county’s annual census of homeless people, the results of which were released this week. 

Tess Colby, who oversees Pierce County’s homelessness programs, said the county is getting better at moving people into housing.  

"Tacoma SR509 bridge" by Cheryl Marland is licensed under CC by 2.0

Pierce County is growing, but some say it's not the right kind of growth. 

The population is surging. But much of that growth is driven by King County ex-pats seeking cheaper housing.

Nearly half of Pierce County's workers commute to jobs outside the county, many of them to Seattle.

The new Pierce County executive, Bruce Dammeier, says fighting that trend is his first order of business.

"Joe rises" by Jason Taellious is licensed under CC by 2.0

Bruce Dammeier ascended to the Pierce County Executive's Office just months after a report found the county lacked a well-connected and accessible mental health care system. 

Dammeier’s plan for improving the system starts with a pair of vans.

He wants the county to operate two specially-equipped vehicles carrying trained staff who would rush to help people in a mental health crisis. 

"Mount Rainier at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge" by Jonathan Miske is licensed under CC by 2.0.

Pierce and Snohomish counties are among the nation's top destinations for people moving within the United States, beating out even tech-infused King County, according to new U.S. Census data. 

The Census Bureau measures something called net domestic migration. It’s the balance of people who moved to and from a particular place.

PIERCE COUNTY

Pierce County lawmakers this week voted down a sales tax that would have raised an estimated $10 million for mental health and substance abuse programs.

The South Sound county will remain the only one of Washington's densely-populated counties without the 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax for mental health. Twenty-two of Washington's 39 counties have the tax, along with the city of Tacoma.

Paula Wissel / knkx

African-Americans make up 7 percent of Pierce County's overall population but about 30 percent of the homeless population.

It's a disparity seen across the United States. African-Americans are over-represented among the homeless, even when differing poverty rates among racial groups are accounted for.

Courtesy of Pierce County

More than half of Washington's 39 counties have a special sales tax funding mental health and substance abuse programs. 

Among the state's urban counties, Pierce County is the exception. Leaders there have resisted enacting tax the one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax for years. 

But with homelessness and addiction on the rise, some county leaders are looking to change that.

"Aerial photo of area surrounding Chief Leschi School Administration" by D Coetzee is licensed by CC by 2.0

Pierce County leaders are exploring a way to save more farmland from the development sweeping the Puget Sound region. But they risk upsetting some key stakeholders: the farmers. 

Every county in Washington has to decide which farms count as "agricultural resource land" -- basically farmland that can't be developed. 

No county has stricter criteria, or less farmland preserved in this way, than Pierce County. It boasts some of the nation's best soils, but about two-thirds of its farmland has disappeared since 1950 as the county's population nearly tripled. 

Paula Wissel / knkx

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy said the county needs to pass a special sales tax increase to pay for mental health services and that a lack of treatment options for people with mental health problems is contributing to rising homelessness. 

John Mummert / USGA

Pierce County will step onto the national stage when it hosts one of the country’s premiere sporting events. In June, the U.S.Open golf championship will be held at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place.

It will be the first time in the event’s history that it will take place in the Pacific Northwest. The first ever U.S. Open was held in 1895.

Women who work at Dream Girls at Foxes, a strip club in Tacoma, don’t want Pierce County to release personal information about them. They say doing so would violate their right to privacy.

But the Pierce County auditor says Washington’s Public Records Act requires her to release information contained in the women’s business licenses on file with the county.

It’s taking longer for Pierce County to bounce back from the recession than counties to the north, such as King and Snohomish. But economists at Pacific Lutheran University expect the economy in Tacoma and the region to show some improvement this year. 

PLU economists Martin Wurm and Neal Johnson have been crunching the numbers on everything from Pierce County’s housing market to retail sales to come up with an economic forecast. 

Port of Tacoma

A team of economists at the University of Puget Sound say strength in military spending and port traffic will help lift Pierce County’s economy this year.

Atomic Taco

Bus riders in Pierce County face dramatic cuts to service if voters reject a ballot proposition to hike the sales tax. Opponents are fighting hard against the measure, saying it would make Pierce County’s sales tax the highest on the West Coast.

If you ask people in downtown Tacoma how they feel about paying more in sales tax, you hear a common refrain.

"The sales tax is pretty high as it is, and I think it will be hard for people to swallow," said Michele Anderson.

Less than two weeks to go until Election Day, and some people are still scrambling to register for the Oct. 29 in-person deadline.

Photo courtesy Washington State Dept of Health

If you see an unusually low-flying helicopter cruising above Seattle or Bellevue, don't worry. It’s just a project of the State Department of Health to measure naturally occurring radiation in King and Pierce Counties.

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