Cigarettes-use Prevention Program

Tobacco-use prevention programs have been cut and positions at the Whatcom County Health Department will be eliminated largely because of reductions in state grant funding.

The County Council on Tuesday, Nov. 22, considered approving an update to the county's budget for 2012. Included in the update was elimination of the tobacco-use prevention programs.

The programs, which largely targeted youths, effectively ended midway through 2011, because the state cut all funding, said Regina Delahunt, county health department director.

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"We really are not doing very much in relation to online cigarettes prevention any longer," she said. At the beginning of the year, the staffer dedicated to the program was cut; the department hoped to have other staff fill in, but then the state cut all funding, she said.

"The counties can't afford to backfill all of these cuts," she said.

The tobacco-prevention program included, among other things, holding workshops and teaching youths about the dangers of discount cigarette online so they could teach their peers.

County health officials retained some programs, despite the fact that grants paying for them were reduced. Those included the needle-exchange program and the communicable disease program, through which officials investigate and prevent the spread of diseases. The Health Department made cuts to administration to save the programs.

"Business in the needle exchange, unfortunately, is really booming," Delahunt said.

Examples of administrative cuts in the 2012 budget update: eliminating three positions in the health department - two clerk typists and an environmental health specialist. The clerical positions are currently vacant, but the environmental health specialist would be laid off. The layoff is because of decreased revenue from septic system permits, said Delahunt, who noted that new home construction remains slow.

"We're to the point where we're not going to be able to find much more in the way of administrative cost savings," she said. "Even covering the phones and desks is difficult at this point."

In fall 2010, when the county was working on the budget, the administration initially proposed eliminating county involvement in the Women, Infants and Children health and nutrition program. Then the state promised to fund all of the county's WIC costs, including administration, for two years, Delahunt said. But the state reduced funding for 2012, requiring the county to spend $188,000 from its general fund for WIC administration.

In all, county officials expect to receive $514,000 less revenue in 2012 than was anticipated in the 2011-12 budget, Delahunt said.

The council's finance committee recommended approving the update Tuesday afternoon. The full council vote was expected late Tuesday night.

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