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Saturday, May 5, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Public-health clinics get reprieve

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two public-health clinics that were threatened with closure because of funding problems will stay open at least until the end of 2008, King County Executive Ron Sims and County Councilman Bob Ferguson announced Friday.

A $5 million reserve fund created by Sims will allow the Bothell and Northgate clinics to keep seeing patients while officials study long-term options for providing public-health services to a growing number of residents without medical insurance.

Sims said in a written statement that the importance of the clinics was demonstrated when clinics around the county opened on Presidents Day weekend and vaccinated 2,272 people — mostly children — after two Seattle-area youngsters died of complications of the flu.

Ferguson, whose district includes Northgate and Bothell and who is chairman of the County Council operating budget committee, said recent focus groups, forums and surveys showed that citizens' top budget priorities are health clinics and criminal justice. "The priority of keeping our clinics open has been expressed clearly by the public in our budget workshops, and I intend to honor that priority," Ferguson said.

The county's 2007 budget funded the clinics only through the first half of this year.

Sims and the County Council had hoped the Legislature would appropriate enough money to keep the clinics open, but that didn't happen.

The new $5 million reserve for clinics comes from parts of the 2006 budget that weren't fully spent and from 2006 revenues that exceeded projections.

The County Council is expected to approve spending the additional funds this year and next.

Bothell and Northgate are two of King County's 10 public-health clinics, which had 427,000 patient visits last year. The county's general-fund support for public health has grown from $15 million in 2003 to $27 million in 2007, a rise Sims says is unsustainable.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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