Opinion

What is most important to our Federal Way city leaders? | Inside Politics

Bob Roegner - Contributed photo
Bob Roegner
— image credit: Contributed photo

At its last meeting, the City Council, along with Mayor Jim Ferrell’s support, passed a resolution opposing King County’s plans to close Federal Way’s Public Health Center, along with three others.

King County plans to balance the budget for the Department of Health by closing Public Health centers in Federal Way, Auburn and White Center, all communities with historically diverse and low-income populations that need county health services. An additional clinic could also be shuttered in Bothell.

With the Federal Way clinic’s closure in January of 2015, maternity support services and infant case management, along with Women, Infants, and Children’s nutrition services and family planning clinical services for low-income families would be eliminated.

Approximately 13,700 Federal Way clients would have to find help outside the community. However, getting to another city isn’t easy if you are poor, and recent transit cuts won’t make it any easier.

Allowing approximately 15 percent of our population, particularly women and children, to potentially lose access to necessary services shouldn’t be an acceptable alternative to our city leaders.

This action has rekindled the debate of city priorities. Talking to the county executive, as Ferrell is doing, is a start, however over the years the county has tried to get the cities to pick up more and more county services, so this is an area to have some caution.

But the mayor’s spokesperson says the city can’t afford to put in any money and said it would be difficult to get support from other suburban cities to oppose the county decision. That is shortsighted.

Ferrell may want to remind other mayors that their services could be the ones at risk in the future if the cities don’t stick together now. Health services are a county wide responsibility and people who are least able to defend themselves should not be put at risk.

But the city can’t just walk away and say it isn’t our problem, or we can’t afford it.

According to a staff briefing paper, the amount of money saved by closing the Federal Way clinic is $1.15 million. In the county budget, that is a rounding error. It is small. And the $12-15 million total shortfall ought to be manageable as well.

These are not new issues and the suburban cities should oppose the cuts as a group and task their collective finance directors to dig into the county budget to identify other options. If the suburban cities, and specifically Federal Way, don’t show leadership, then the county will pass along other services. It’s time for strategic strength not weakness.

If necessary, the city of Federal Way could put some money up to help keep the clinics open while they negotiate with the county for a long-term solution. The city has already demonstrated it is willing to spend money on projects it likes. It can certainly afford to help mothers and children.

And as one community member stated, “(The city) has been spending money like a drunken sailor since the first of the year. Cost overruns on the downtown park, more staff, more department directors, pay raises and the new Performing Arts and Conference Center.”

At a meeting a few weeks ago a resident asked, “If the city is going to spend $32 million dollars on the Performing Arts and Conference Center for the rich, how much are they going to spend on the poor?”

The question hit home with some who have questioned the city’s priorities. According to the Finance Department, the city spent $2 million on those in need in our community in 2013 and will spend $1.72 million in 2014. City staff correctly point out that the Performing Arts and Conference Center is a one-time project and the annual cost of paying the debt service would “only” be about $600,000 per year.

But some of that $600,000 could go a long way toward solving the current $1.15 million dollar problem in health services if it were not already earmarked for the Performing Arts and Conference Center.

But the numbers simply underscore the difference. What is most important to our city leaders? Passing a resolution isn’t enough. Maybe the county noticed that Federal Way and Auburn have new mayors and they may not know how to pull the regional levers of power yet, and White Center has no city government to look out for its citizens.

Elected city leaders made a policy choice to support the Performing Arts and Conference Center, along with a new downtown park. And maybe, many years from now, that will prove to be a good decision.

But what are they going to do right now about the mothers and children who live right here in this community, that may not be able to afford a bus ticket to Kent, let alone a ticket to the Performing Arts and Conference Center?

Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn: bjroegner@comcast.net.

 

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