Spokane Regional Health District facing $3.5 million budget deficit

<p><p>The Spokane Regional Health District is facing a $3.5 million deficit in the upcoming 2022 budget.</p></p><p><p>Millwood Mayor Kevin Freeman, the vice chairman of the Board of Health, presented the finance committee’s review of expenses and revenues on Thursday to the Board.</p></p><p><p>Freeman said that, to fund everything at the health district as it currently is without any cuts, they need $3.5 million.</p></p><p><p>The budget does not yet include funding from Spokane County, however. At a minimum, the county will need to provide $1.17 million to support programs required by state law.</p></p><p><p>The health district is funded through many revenue streams, from state funding to grants from both state and federal agencies, in addition to funding provided by Spokane County.</p></p><p><p>The Board of Health has yet to request funding from the county commissioners, and while it could request $3.5 million, the consensus on Thursday was to look for more options.</p></p><p><p>Freeman said that with the exception of about a $548,000 increase in funding from the state that might be earmarked for specific purposes, the unrestricted funding for public health from the state has not changed since 2012.</p></p><p><p>“We talk about public health being an issue, and in the last two years it’s become readily apparent that the budget has become a priority,” Freeman said. “But the state continues to ask for programs and mandates that it is not funding.”</p></p><p><p>County funding to the health district has also decreased in recent years, down $744,000 total since 2015.</p></p><p><p>In 2015, the county gave the health district $2.5 million, and currently the county has provided $1.8 million in unrestricted funds to the district. Commissioners said they were facing shortfalls countywide, which is why the cuts were necessary.</p></p><p><p>In his presentation, Freeman showed board members unfunded yet mandated programs that the health district runs in addition to programs that are not mandated but offered by the health district.</p></p><p><p>Some board members requested different budget proposals.</p></p><p><p>“I would hope before an ask is made to the county, the question is asked about, ‘What do we need to provide health services to keep the community safe – and what is that realistic number – not what are the wants but the needs to keep the community safe,” County Commissioner Josh Kerns said.</p></p><p><p>This year’s budget deficit is similar to last year’s budget deficit, according to district spokesperson Kelli Hawkins. Last year at this time, the district had a $4.2 million deficit, which was funded through a request to the county combined with some efficiencies and using unassigned reserved program dollars.</p></p><p><p>The board’s finance committee will do more analysis on cost-saving measures, including how cuts would impact programs and personnel, Freeman said. The committee will also consider what areas of the budget might qualify for American Rescue Plan funds from the county before bringing budget proposals back to the Board of Health in late October.</p></p><p><p><em>Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how much less funding Spokane County has given the health district since 2015. The county has decreased funding each year since then for a total of $744,000 less than they were funding the district in 2015.</em></p></p>