Pay their fair share

Commissioner Tom Mielke hasn’t been shy in voicing his displeasure at the county paying for regional public health services.

Last year, when the commissioners passed a 1 percent property tax increase to support public health, Mielke expressed frustration that cities don’t pay the county for services.

Provided public health services range from inspecting restaurants and controlling communicable disease outbreaks to making sure the county has clean water and air and providing services to low-income families.

Most of the people who use the services are probably Vancouver residents, Mielke said at the time.

The response to Mielke is always the same: State law says counties are responsible for providing those services. Until Legislature changes the law, the county will continue to foot the bill.

The issue came up again at this week’s board of health meeting.

Mielke asked John Wiesman, Clark County Public Health director, about his efforts to get the city of Vancouver to help pay overhead costs.

Wiesman, ever the diplomat, said he, Commissioner Marc Boldt and County Administrator Bill Barron gave a presentation to the Vancouver City Council but hadn’t directly asked the city for money.

However, Wiesman said agencies across the state are starting to push for a re-examination of how public health is funded.

One organization — the Washington State Association of Local Public Health Officials (WSALPHO) — is working on legislation that would require the state, counties and cities to look at public health funding sources and re-evaluate if making counties pay for the services is sustainable. That legislation will be introduced soon, Wiesman said.

Commissioner Boldt said the issue has also come up at recent Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) meetings.

Association members have started looking at the amount of money counties receive from city property taxes and the cost of the services provided.

At one time, the set-up may have been fair. But now members are realizing the financing probably isn’t equitable, Boldt said.

This is one issue Mielke has said causes him heartburn.

Perhaps a legislative fix will provide him some much needed relief.

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