A pilot project to address increasing opioid use in Whidbey and Camano Islands is part of the 2017 $85.7 million budget approved Monday by the Island County commissioners. Major road construction projects, including rebuilding Driftwood Way at Ledgewood Beach which was lost in the 2013 landslide, and an upgrade to the Coupeville solid waste plant are also included in the budget.
Additional staffing for enforcement and permit review was also added to the Planning Department to address problems with squatters and other illegal land use activity.
“It wasn’t an easy budget, but we said in the beginning it would be status quo,” said County Commissioner chairman Rick Hannold. “It’s a very smart budget and I support it wholeheartedly.”
The 2017 budget is about one-half percent higher than the 2016 budget of $85.2 million. Three tax increases were approved by the commissioners in ordinances to help sustain and add services.
The budget and ordinances passed unanimously after a call for public comment passed quietly because no members of the public were on hand to comment.
The tax increases include: A 1 percent property tax increase to restore local support programs, including help for indigent veterans and their families, a 1 percent increase to the $8.5 million road levy that will pay for drainage projects and vegetation management, and the Conservation Futures Levy was increased by .95 percent. These funds support maintenance of existing public properties and preserve natural resources.
Buoyed by better economic times, including more sales tax revenue, allowed Island County to make gains in some areas after several years of rebuilding services from cuts made during the recession, said Budget Manager Elaine Marlow. The public works department, one of the county’s largest, will add eight new full-time road construction positions.
“We are able to return the road staff to pre-recession levels,” Marlow told the three commissioners during her 90-minute presentation.
The opioid crisis, particularly in rural South Whidbey and Camano Island, is the focus of a two-year pilot program that will include an outreach team of a law enforcement officer, a mental health counselor and a public health nurse.
Funding a sheriff patrol deputy for two years for opioid outreach is part of the new budget. The county was also able to get a $74,000 grant through the five-county North Sound Behavioral Health Organization for a mental health worker. Additionally, Amerigroup Washington, a Washington Apple Health provider contributed about $20,000 for a part-time public health nurse.
The pilot program is based in part on a similar effort in Snohomish County. Many of those struggling with opioid abuse started out using prescription pain pills, then turned to heroin after being cut off from the legal high. Between 2003 and 2014, Island County deaths from opiates increased by 77 percent, and the rate of admissions to publicly-funded treatment increased 524.5 percent, according to the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute.
The team will help individuals struggling with substance abuse to find treatment and steer them away from courts and jails.
Continuing to improve the county’s technology infrastructure and online access to public services is also a priority for the commissioners. The county’s 2017 budget includes an additional $500,000 to upgrade the county’s website and GIS (geographic information service) mapping services.
County commissioners also looked ahead to the future, saying they will focus in the new year on policies to increase affordable housing and update rural land use development regulations.