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Local public health in critical condition

Governor’s budget decimates public health protection

SNOHOMISH COUNTY— Disease control, bioterrorism response, food safety, immunizations for children and other public health services are at risk of major cuts due to Governor Gary Locke’s proposed budget, say local public health officials.

“The public’s health is jeopardized if we are forced to cut services as severely as proposed in the Governor’s budget,” said Rick Mockler, Deputy Administrator for Snohomish Health District.

“For years the Health District has struggled to keep up with the increasing needs for public health protections,” said Mockler. “The nation’s recent experience with bioterrorism proved that public health does not have adequate resources to meet more than what is ‘routine’ need.

“With today’s funding, we will be overwhelmed in an emergency,” he said. “With the proposed cuts, we will be overwhelmed by ordinary needs.”

Founded in 1959, for 37 years the Health District was funded through a partnership between the cities and County. Effective in 1996, the Legislature removed the funding responsibility from the cities and dedicated a piece of the cities’ Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) revenue to public health. The Legislature eliminated this MVET revenue in 2000 and provided backfill dollars. Backfill dollars represent 15% of the Health District’s total funding and 48% of what historically has been its local funding base.

“Adequate, stable funding must be found to protect the public’s health,” said Mockler. “Our only hope is to work with the Legislature to find the solution.”

Snohomish Health District
2002 Revenues

Total 2002 Revenue Budget $15,190,596
Licenses, Fees & Permits $4,993,200
Grants, Contracts and Other Restricted Funds (1) $4,086,454
County Funds for TB Control $881,924
Miscellaneous (2) $545,000
County General Fund Support $2,473,071
MVET/I695 Backfill $2,270,947

Health District budgeted revenues for 2002 are a little over $15 million. Most of these dollars are linked to specific activities through grants and contracts or fees that require performance of the activities in order to earn the fee. The Health District’s primary sources of unrestricted funds are County General Fund and the I695 backfill funding. These dollars are used to match grants and contracts, supplement fee-supported programs (particularly for low-income citizens), and to fund our communicable disease (which includes bioterrorism) activities. Elimination of backfill funding will require reducing our communicable disease/bioterrorism capacity on a dollar-for-dollar basis or cuts of far greater magnitude in other public health activities. Additionally, these other cuts would reduce our “surge capacity” to respond to a communicable disease outbreak or bioterrorist act.

Prior to 1996, the cities and County funded the Health District through a partnership. Effective in 1996, the Legislature removed the funding responsibility from the cities and dedicated a piece of the cities’ MVET revenue to public health. In 2000, the Legislature eliminated this MVET revenue and provided backfill dollars. Backfill dollars represent 15% of the Health District’s total funding and 48% of what historically has been our local funding base.

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