Pierce County Exec’s Veto Will Harm Pierce County Kids. There Was Another Way

This op-ed by Dr. Tafona Ervin and Holly Bamford Hunt was originally published in the Tacoma News Tribune.  Dr. Tafona Ervin is executive director at Foundation for Tacoma Students. Holly Bamford Hunt is executive director at the Bamford Family Foundation and a board member of Foundation for Tacoma Students.

The recent decision by the Pierce County Council, unable to override County Executive Bruce Dammeier’s veto of the Community Needs Fund in a close 4-3 vote, marks a significant setback for our community.

It’s also an outcome that highlights the complex challenges in navigating local politics and underscores the severe impact of not securing vital funding for community-based organizations (CBOs) during a crucial time.

The Community Needs Fund was more than just a budgetary line item; it represented a beacon of hope and support for those at the grassroots level, tirelessly working to uplift our neighborhoods. The proposed fund, part of the 2024-2025 Biennial Budget, was slated to invest $1.27 million into the community, a much-needed lifeline for programs addressing homelessness, food insecurity, and senior citizen support among other urgent needs.

The denial of these funds isn’t just a bureaucratic hiccup; it’s a blow to those relying on these critical services.

Several council members advocated for the Community Needs Fund, demonstrating their commitment to improving the quality of life in Pierce County. These council members recognized the transformative potential of the fund and voted in favor of it, reflecting a deep understanding of their constituencies’ needs. Despite their efforts, Dammeier’s veto power, exercised eight times since his tenure began in 2016, has once again played a pivotal role in shaping the county’s direction and priorities.

The Foundation for Tacoma Students, along with numerous other organizations, has witnessed first-hand the transformative power of well-directed funds. Our partnership with the County with the Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) fund in 2021 and 2023 is a testament to this. Earlier this year, we awarded twenty grants totaling $575,000 to local organizations, focusing on closing opportunity gaps and supporting the academic, social-emotional, and mental well-being of youth of color. Our county’s investment in these programs led to an increase in program slots for high-quality youth development programs across the county.

However, the County Executive’s veto of this critical aspect of the budget undermines these efforts and the progress we’ve made as a community. And his veto arrives at a particularly challenging time. With funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) approaching their end, our CBOs are on the precipice of a financial cliff. The absence of support from the Community Needs Fund from the proposed budget leaves a gaping hole in the support structure for these vital organizations.

As we navigate this setback, let’s use it as an opportunity to rally together, reinforce our support for our CBOs, and build a stronger, more united front in advocating for the essential funding and resources they need. The path ahead may be challenging, but it is through collective effort and perseverance that we can overcome these obstacles and strive towards a brighter future for Pierce County.