County Council rejects request to replenish staffers

EVERETT — The Snohomish County sheriff and medical examiner won’t be getting extra staff to replenish ranks exhausted by the Oso mudslide response.

The County Council on Wednesday turned down requests to fund a sheriff’s sergeant to lead search-and-rescue missions and add at least one medical death investigator. The sheriff’s office had trimmed down an earlier proposal to create four temporary positions through the end of the year.

“This has been very difficult because we know the sheriff’s office and the medical examiner’s office have been under tremendous stress and performed in an exemplary fashion during the Oso mudslide,” Council Chairman Dave Somers said.

Somers was joined by Councilmen Ken Klein and Terry Ryan in voting down the staffing additions. Two other council members were absent.

The council promised to review staffing this fall, as it helps prepare next year’s county budget.

The decision comes amid anxiety over the financial toll from the March 22 mudslide, which killed 43 people. Authorities have located the remains of all but one victim.

Staff continue to document slide costs as they await a mid-year budget forecast for the county as a whole, executive director Lenda Crawford said.

“Given the uncertainty we had with Oso, we need to be cautious,” Crawford said.

The county received a $7.5 million reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, budget manager Brian Haseleu said. The county expects the state to cover an additional 12.5 percent of slide costs, which still are being documented. How much money might become available likely won’t be known until the Legislature goes into session next year.

The council’s denial leaves a winded sheriff’s office entering the busy season for search and rescue operations, already having put in more hours into the Oso response than they would work in a normal year.

The unit gets called out frequently during summer to rescue stranded hikers and rafters. By law, the county must staff search and rescue. The sergeant coordinates the work of about 300 volunteers.

Sheriff Ty Trenary said Wednesday that a second search and rescue supervisor is crucial for his agency, though he understands the council’s decision.

“We’re going to look real hard at how we can organize internally,” Trenary said. “We can’t afford to ignore it. We’re going to have to do something.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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