County admin building pencils out, even at higher price

As often happens with big projects, the price tag of the proposed Pierce County administration building is coming in higher than the rough estimate of two years ago.

That’s fodder for the project’s critics, not a valid reason to dump the plan. Even at the higher price, consolidating 19 county divisions on a county-owned campus will create cost savings that make the project too good to pass up. The Pierce County Council would be well-advised to green-light the plan later this month.

It might seem counterintuitive to claim that a $127 million project will actually save money in the long run, but that appears to be the case. That’s because it would enable the county to:

• Terminate leases on eight buildings that currently cost more than $3.2 million a year and are expected to rise about 3 percent annually.

• Save more than $4 million annually (another cost that would rise each year) by cutting 38 employee positions and streamlining services. Consolidating departments under one roof would allow the county to reduce duplicative positions such as receptionists, records staff and contracts coordinators.

• Leasing space to the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department for more than $1 million per year.

That and other savings add up to about $8.4 million a year – more than the annual cost of paying off the debt to build the new building, which the county will own after 30 years. That doesn’t even take into consideration the possibility of selling the county annex site, which now houses the auditor and assessor-treasurer’s office.

The “do-nothing” costs, which would be incurred if the county continues operating the way it does now, would be higher, with leases continuing to rise and the county on the hook for major deferred maintenance at the annex.

And doing nothing does nothing to solve a problem county customers now encounter: having to go to various locations to conduct business. If all county departments (except judici