County commissioners ended more than a year of controversy Tuesday, voting unanimously not to seize control of the Spokane County Health District.
Instead, they voted to rename the district and expand its governing board.
The commissioners considered a possible takeover but abandoned the idea at the urging of an advisory committee.
Starting in January, the district will be known as the Spokane Regional Health District. The name was picked to end any confusion that the district is part of county government, officials said.
Commissioner Steve Hasson said the board will be enlarged from eight to 11 members, with the new members probably being a mix of medical professionals and citizens.
“I think this is a very positive step,” Hasson said.
Several years ago, the state Legislature gave counties authority to take control of health districts as one way to economize on the cost of delivering services.
Hasson said commissioners considered the idea of consolidating the district into county government for its cost-saving advantages, but backed off after being convinced the current system is working.
Commissioner John Roskelley said the same law that allows counties to take over health districts could be used to reorganize and enlarge the board.
“I think this is the best way to go at this point,” Roskelley said at Tuesday’s hearing.
Frank Conklin, who headed the advisory committee, said he heard few concerns from health district employees about the takeover threat. He said the city approved a resolution against such a move, but did not send any representatives to committee meetings.
Conklin said his committee was concerned that a county takeover would cause more problems than it would solve.
Top city officials were not available for comment Tuesday.
The existing board is made up of the three county commissioners, three members of the Spokane City Council and two city or town council members representing other municipalities.
In expanding the board, Roskelley wants one citizen appointed from each commissioner district to provide geographical balance.
Hasson said medical professionals should be appointed.
That issue will be decided later, commissioners said.
Commissioner Phil Harris said last month he was concerned about city residents having too much representation on the health board at the expense of rural residents. He offered no comment Tuesday in agreeing to the changes.
The district was formed in 1970 to consolidate existing health departments operated by the city and the county.
The district deals with public health issues such as contagious disease prevention, immunizations, restaurant cleanliness, health education, septic tank sanitation, anti-smoking efforts and other programs.