After years of cuts, Snohomish Health District plans to hire

The district has had to reduce its workforce every year since 2014 due to budget constraints.

EVERETT — After several years of staff cutbacks, the Snohomish Health District hopes to add four employees next year as part of its proposed $17.7 million budget.

One of the new employees would be a restaurant inspector, another would track disease trends. Plans also call for the two current employees at the county’s syringe exchange to become health district employees.

The syringe exchange would remain at its current location at 1625 E. Marine View Drive in Everett.

The budget proposal is scheduled for a vote by the health district’s board Dec. 13.

The epidemiologist would provide health data for public health agencies in Skagit, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties as well as the Verdant Health Commission in Lynnwood and North Sound Behavioral Health.

These organizations will pay for nearly all the salary and benefits of the new employee, said Heather Thomas, a health district spokeswoman.

The new employee in the environmental health program will be paid by fees paid to the health district. The county has 3,434 restaurants and other businesses providing food to the public. More than 1,200 temporary food event permits have been issued this year.

If approved, the health district will have nearly a dozen people working in its food safety program. Restaurants are inspected one to three times a year.

The two syringe exchange employees are expected to become health district employees on Jan. 1. Money for those salaries comes primarily from the state Department of Health, Thomas said.

The health district would like to expand the needle exchange program, but is still considering how that might be done, she said.

The four additional employees would mean the public health agency’s workforce would total nearly 142 positions next year, compared to the full-time equivalent of slightly more than 137 this year.

The health district has had to reduce its workforce every year since 2014 due to budget crunches.

It expects to get nearly $500,000 in additional state money over the next two years to work on sexually transmitted disease information and prevention efforts. The money was approved following a statewide push by public health agencies for additional funding.

In July, the health district said that sharp increases in sexually transmitted diseases were so great it was creating a public health crisis. Gonorrhea cases increased 243 percent from 2011 to 2016. Syphilis cases grew by 112 percent and chlamydia cases rose 40 percent.

The health district is asking local cities to again agree to chip in to help pay for public health activities.

Last year, the health district asked every city in the county to write a $2 per person check to help stave off even bigger layoffs and financial cuts. Thirteen cities agreed, settling on contributions of 50 cents to $2 per person. The county also increased its contribution, netting the health district $430,000 in new revenues.

The agency may be leaving its longtime home at 3020 Rucker Ave. in Everett next year. The city of Everett is finalizing an offer on the building. The health district hasn’t yet settled on plans for its new offices, but is considering buying two Volunteers of America buildings in the Broadway/Lombard Avenue area of Everett.

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