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Health care on the sick list

"Initiative 695 will force the Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District to make “drastic” budget cuts next year.Its director, Dr. Willa Fisher, explained the district must reduce its budget by at least $750,000 to compensate for the loss of state motor vehicle excise tax funds next year. Health district number-crunchers expected to get $618,024 next year in vehicle tax money. They’ll have to cut more than that from programs because some of the district services generate revenue from fees and contracts.District grant money will also be lost because many of the grants are contingent on matching funds that the agency can no longer afford.Fisher said she expected the district to significantly increase environmental and health fees to a point where the programs pay for themselves. This could limit access to district services for people who can’t afford to pay.State-mandated services like communicable disease response and prevention, sexually transmitted disease clinics and HIV/AIDS counseling and testing will be preserved despite the budget cuts, but at a lower level of service, according to Fisher.In a health board memo, Fisher said the cutbacks could severely limit childhood immunizations, the district’s ability to deal with communicable disease outbreaks, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.Of the unmandated programs, district officials proposed eliminating the Child Health Advocate program, “which is aimed at reducing child abuse and neglect through positive intervention and prevention services provided on an individual family basis,” Fisher’s memo states.The health board, comprised of mayors, city council members and the Kitsap County Commissioners, will vote on the proposed reductions in December. On Jan. 1, 2000, I-695 will prohibit any tax or fee increase that is not authorized by voters."

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