The Kitsap Public Health Board earlier this month unanimously approved an $18.5 million 2022 budget for the Kitsap Public Health District.
The budget is balanced and represents an approximately $620,000 increase over the amended 2021 budget, about 3 percent of the total budget. It includes $5.5 million for responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The board also approved a 4 percent salary increase for Kitsap Public Health District employees not represented by a union. Contract negotiations with union employees are ongoing and will require a budget amendment after an agreement is reached.
Health District Administrator Keith Grellner provided the health board with an overview of the budget before they voted to approve it.
The health district has a diversified portfolio of revenue sources, he said, with the bulk of revenue coming from contracts and grants, and service fees. Because of the need to continue responding to the pandemic, contracts and grants make up a larger share of revenue in 2022 than is typical, Grellner said. Most of the funds are federal, with some coming from the state, he said.
“The funds are there to use if we need them,” he said. “We have needed them. If we reach a state where our disease activity in our county gets to a more manageable position, and it stays that way for a while, we are able to scale back here. But for the interest of transparency and for full board information, we have included all those revenues and expenditures in the budget for right now, because we expect that we’re going to have to keep working on COVID through 2022.”
As was the case for 2021, there are no service fee increases budgeted for 2022, Grellner said.
The budget includes about $1 million in new Foundation Public Health Services funding from the state legislature, he added.
Grellner said the health district has received some public comment questioning the inclusion of funds for combatting COVID-19 in the budget, but he said the district’s response to the pandemic is required by RCW 70.05.060.
“One of our primary functions is to control and prevent the spread of communicable disease,” he said. “COVID is a communicable disease. This is not optional for us to work on. If we fail to address this disease like other diseases, we’re actually failing to meet our legal mandates, and it’s just not something we’re going to do.
"It’s actually the duty of the public health board to provide for the control and prevention of any dangerous, contagious, or infectious disease within the jurisdiction of the local health agency," he continued. "It’s also the duty of the health officer under state law. They are required to control and prevent the spread of any dangerous, contagious, or infectious disease. So again, while we are very grateful that we have this federal money available and it is funding our work, it’s not an option to turn the other way and not address COVID. It’s our job, it’s our legal responsibility, and we will continue to do this work.”
The COVID budget for 2022 is roughly the same as in 2021, Grellner said. “We are not proposing an increase. And again, the COVID work is funded by federal funds that can only be spent on COVID response work.”
The budget also includes $1 million in pass-through funds that will be used to support local agencies assisting with the district’s COVID response work, he added. That amount is a placeholder, he said, as the district’s FEMA mass vax contract may ultimately go above or below that amount.
The health district has added 32 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions related to COVID, Grellner said, and the 2022 budget maintains that staffing level into the new year.
The reason the 2022 COVID funds look like a budget increase is because in 2021, the COVID program was part of the overall communicable disease program, Grellner said. “They were joined, and it was one budget,” he said. The combined total of that budget was $6.8 million.
For 2022, those budgets have been separated, he said. “We saw early in 2021 that COVID was going to consume us at a much larger level than what we had planned for,” he said. “So in early 2021 we already started the split so we could account for our costs separately.”
For 2022, $915,000 is budgeted for the communicable disease program, and the COVID program budget is $5.5 million, for a combined total of $6.3 million — about $500,000 less than was budgeted for the two programs in 2021. “So we’ve been good stewards with the money and we’ve used the money when we’ve needed to, how we’ve needed to,” he said.
Grellner emphasized the ways in which the health district’s efforts to control and prevent the spread of COVID support the community.
“When we prevent and decrease the disease transmission of COVID, it supports our community,” he said. “It supports our economy. Less illness equals fewer ill workers, fewer ill customers, fewer ill children, thereby keeping our businesses and schools open. That is good for the community, that is good for our economy.”
The COVID program entails many different activities, Grellner said, including embedding within the emergency operations center; conducting case investigations and contact tracing for every reported case of COVID; helping the EOC run an isolation and quarantine facility for people who can’t isolate or quarantine at home; running community-based vaccination clinics; and conducting COVID testing, and operating a “robust” epidemiology program that tracks, analyzes, assesses, and reports COVID data with the public information officer and EOC.
Additionally, he said the health district serves as a funding conduit for federal funds to local partners, provides support and response for COVID-19 outbreaks to businesses and schools, and provides COVID-19 communications to the public on a weekly and daily basis.
The health district also acts as a vaccine hub for local health care providers, something for which the district has been recognized by the state Department of Health, Grellner said.
“We have been told by DOH that we are the single largest vaccine hub in the state right now from local health jurisdictions,” he said. “We’re really proud of that because we’re able to help small clinics get and use vaccine whereas they may not be able to do so all by themselves.”