New county office covers parks, tourism, water, energy, farms

Four departments will merge into one beginning in February. The largest focuses on county parks.

EVERETT — Four Snohomish County government offices will merge to form a department focused on natural resources and conservation.

The county council voted 4-1 Wednesday to form the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources out of the former Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department; the Surface Water Management Division; the Office of Energy and Sustainability; and the office of the agriculture coordinator.

Councilmember Stephanie Wright abstained from voting because she wanted more public outreach before moving to amend county codes.

Tom Teigen, current director of Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism, will head the new office.

Direction to pursue the new department came from the executive’s office. All four agencies work on environmental and sustainability projects, County Executive Dave Somers said.

As one department, those agencies can accomplish that work “a little better, a little more efficiently and maybe a little faster when we’re all working together,” Teigen said.

He will report to the council quarterly on the department’s progress.

There’s no plan to let anyone go as a result of the merger, Somers said. The new department will also be subject to the county’s current hiring freeze.

Teigen’s current department has over 190 full-time employees. Surface Water has 95 full-time employees. The Energy and Sustainability Office has nine full-time employees, and the agriculture office has one full-time employee, Linda Neunzig.

Between surface water management and parks, Teigen said, there are currently about 20 unfilled positions.

The two smallest offices — the agriculture office and Energy and Sustainability — may benefit most from the merger. But Teigen said the move won’t draw staff attention away from the county’s 110 parks.

The department will officially begin operating Feb. 3.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

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