Everett relying on Olympia for funding to address social issues

EVERETT — The city of Everett is gearing up for a legislative session in which education funding threatens to overwhelm many other issues.

Everett’s goal will be to ensure that its own needs don’t get lost in the shuffle as the Legislature tries to cobble together a spending plan for the next two years.

“You’ve heard of the McCleary decision, and that’s going to be the big elephant in the room,” Bob Bolerjack, Everett’s governmental affairs director, told the City Council on Wednesday.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s $46.7 billion budget proposal, released in December, addresses McCleary and a separate Supreme Court mandate to change how the state cares for those with mental illnesses.

Inslee’s proposal would increase the state budget by $8 billion, to be paid for with a number of tax and fee increases.

“They’ll be looking at every pot of money they can get their hands on,” Bolerjack told the council.

At the top of Everett’s wish list are programs and funding sources that address social services. One is a joint effort with the city and five counties, including Snohomish County, to get $32 million for the North Sound Behavioral Health Organization in the next biennium.

The nonprofit coalition uses federal Medicaid funding to provide mental health services to lower-income people in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties. The requested money would fund the construction of several new 16-bed facilities, including two at the Denny Juvenile Justice Center, to treat homeless or transient populations with mental illness or addictions.

The governor’s budget proposal contains money to build several such facilities in the state.

Other priorities that are shared by the city and county include extending and increasing the document-recording fee on housing transactions. That’s a key source of funding for local homelessness programs. Both governments also support providing $200 million in funding the state Housing Trust Fund and preserving Medicaid waiver funds for supportive housing.

The local document-recording fee is significant because parts of the legislation that make it possible will expire in 2019. If the sunset clause isn’t removed, Snohomish County estimates that funding available through the fee will drop from $4.3 million in 2018 to $1.6 million in 2019.

That’s coming at a time when the county and region are seeing an increase in the need to provide housing and related services to that population.

Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, Snohomish County’s director of human services, said that particular fee is an important funding mechanism because it is more flexible than other sources on how the money can be spent.

“You can work with sort of the intersections between these programs and stitch them together into a whole cloth,” she said.

Snohomish County’s legislative agenda also puts human services at the top of the list. The county wants to expand access to the overdose-prevention drug naloxone and programs that treat opioid addictions with methadone and Suboxone.

Everett also singles out grant funding requests from Housing Hope and Cocoon House, both of which plan to build new projects in Everett. In particular, Cocoon House was turned down for a Housing Trust Fund grant in December. The decision forced the nonprofit to make changes to its capital campaign.

The city would like to see Cocoon House get whatever help it can from the Legislature, Bolerjack said.

Getting results from Olympia will depend on lobbying and an expected drawn-out battle between the Democratic-controlled House, Republican-controlled Senate and the governor’s office.

Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, took a more optimistic view that those social issues, especially concerning mental health, will see some momentum when the session begins Monday.

“Historically it has been, and I have reason to believe it will be, a bipartisan issue,” she said.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said it was clear at the end of last year’s session that it was going to be a challenge to fund many programs with McCleary in the mix.

“You name it, it’s gotten to the point of overwhelming, the kinds of needs that need to be met,” Sells said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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