Pierce County | KNKX

Pierce County

The press release from the Pierce County assessor’s office was blunt: “There’s no sugar-coating it, property tax bills will be bigger this year.”

The state legislature has invested in public education in recent years to satisfy the long-running McCleary school-finance lawsuit, and that money is coming from a state property tax increase. The legislature also raised the maximum that school districts can collect in local levies.

Seth Wenig / AP Photo

It's not only a new year but Jan. 1 also marks the start of new regulations on recycling for residents of King and Pierce counties.  

Seattle Public Utilities and King County Solid Waste are no longer accepting plastic bags or plastic wraps in curbside bins. (Pierce County already made this change). Instead, residents are asked to bundle these thin plastics up at home and take them to drop off sites at retail stores.

The main reason for the change is that thin plastics get caught in the gears of the sorting machines that separate different kinds of recycling. 

Pierce County has found its next chief medical examiner, to replace Dr. Thomas Clark.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Pierce County has found its next chief medical examiner, shortly after reaching settlement agreements with the office’s top two officials.  

The county announced Tuesday that Dr. Mark Fajardo will lead the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office as soon as he relocates from Southern California. He’ll succeed Dr. Thomas Clark, who recently announced his intent to retire amid a whirlwind of complaints

Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, right, stands outside a Pierce County Superior courtroom in May 2019 following an appearance by a teen suspected in a robbery and murder of a 79-year-old convenience store owner.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Washington’s second largest county is about to get a new sheriff for the first time in two decades. Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor announced last week that he will retire at the beginning of 2020. 

Courtesy of WorkForce Central

Nearly half of jobs in Pierce County are at "high risk" of being replaced by advancing technology, according to a recent report assessing the threats posed by automation. 

The report by WorkForce Central found that four of the county's six most common occupations — retail salesperson, food preparer or server, cashier and office clerk — are at "high risk" for automation. 

Pierce County has less than half the population of King County, but the two counties have almost the same number of children in foster care or other out-of-home placements. In Pierce County, a new effort is underway to keep families intact.

Will James / KNKX

Results from Pierce County's annual census of the homeless population show a striking, but familiar, pattern around race. 

Nina Summerrise and her husband, Robin, hold a picture of Summerrise's son, Ian Sherls, whose body was found in a well in the ground at Tacoma's Swan Creek Park. They want responses to unanswered questions from Pierce County Medical Examiner Thomas Clark.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This story was reported by digital content manager Kari Plog and South Sound reporter Will James, and written by Plog.

Nina Summerrise tried to stay positive when a friend alerted her of the news reports: a body wedged deep in an abandoned well discovered in Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park.

medical examiner van
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Pierce County officials have accused an employee of "possible misconduct" a month after she filed a whistleblower complaint against her boss, the medical examiner.

Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The Pierce County medical examiner is facing a second complaint about his job performance from his second-in-command.

Megan Quinn, the county’s associate medical examiner, sent the complaint this week to regulators with the state Department of Health, her attorney said. 

medical examiner van
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

UPDATE, Feb. 1: Pierce County's medical examiner faces another complaint from his second-in-command, according to a complaint obtained by KNKX. This one was sent to regulators with the state Department of Health, her attorney Joan Mell said. 

The chief medical examiner with Pierce County is accused of violating a laundry list of laws and standards, according to a whistleblower complaint filed with human resources Thursday.

The second-in-command at the Medical Examiner’s Office accused Thomas B. Clark of altering death certificates, mismanaging evidence and creating a toxic work environment, according to the complaint.


Four homeless people who challenged the city of Puyallup's practice of clearing away encampments have agreed to a $40,400 settlement. 

Will James / KNKX

Pierce County Council members have postponed a vote on a program that would connect homeless people with work as day laborers. 

A vote was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but county officials requested it be held off so they could refine the proposal, a county spokeswoman said. 

Will James / KNKX

If you walk into any homeless shelter in Washington state, or anywhere in the U.S., you're likely to see a disproportionate number of African-Americans.

It's a sign of a mystery lying at the intersection of race and homelessness in America: African-Americans seem especially vulnerable to losing their homes, even when compared to equally poor white people.

Courtesy of the Point Defiance AIDS Projects

Pierce County Council members are likely to vote Tuesday to ban sites where people can inject drugs under medical supervision. 

So-called "safe injection sites" are operating in Canada and under consideration by a few U.S. cities as a way to stem a tide of opioid overdoses.

The sites are part of a strategy called "harm reduction," which acknowledges drug users are going to use and looks for ways to prevent them from dying, even while their addiction remains active.

Will James / KNKX

Leaders of Pierce County and nine of its cities lined up inside a cavernous data center Tuesday and came just short of making a direct appeal for companies to flee Seattle's taxes for the South Sound. 

"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.