TACOMA, Wash. - South Sound lawmakers are considering massive changes for its local health department. On Tuesday afternoon, legislation was introduced at the Pierce County Council that would dissolve the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and move the responsibility under the county.
The idea seemingly came out of left field, leaving the health department blindsided and some officials worried what could happen next.
“It feels like it’s moving too fast,” said councilperson Marty Campbell.
Councilmember Pam Roach introduced the legislation saying the county executive’s office would do a better job running local health.
Roach said as it currently operates, the health department’s leadership does not reflect the will of the voters.
During an interview with Q13 News, Roach said the current pandemic health crisis did not factor into the timing of the proposal.
“I don’t think it matters,” said Roach. “This will be arguments they will put up to put fear out there.”
The department’s current board is guided by elected leaders from county and city governments in addition to health professionals.
During Tuesday’s meeting, it was the first time many on the council heard about the proposal.
“The fact of the matter the public doesn’t know what’s going on,” said councilmember Connie Ladenburg.
“Something this big absolutely needs broad-scale public input,” said councilmember Marty Campbell. “We need to be hearing from people”.
The department has been a partnership between the city of Tacoma and the county for three decades. Critics of the proposal worry a new health department would be deprived of the $1 million the city of Tacoma has been chipping in.
The proposal is scheduled for debate on Dec. 7th, final passage could come by Dec. 15th.
It has been a fast-moving development poised to change how an entire segment of public government operates. The agency’s current board chairman says the proposal was a surprise and worries those who rely on the current department don’t know what impacts could be in store.
“What I’m hearing from people most is why did it happen and what will happen?” said board chair Catherine Ushka. “And the answer is I don’t know.”
The current agreement between the city the county says both governments can choose to end the partnership with appropriate notice. If the ordinance the current health agency would be dissolved by the end of next year.