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Local health departments ask for budget help

County and city health department officials have sought local government help in recent weeks, citing facility and budget problems.

Monday, October 09, 2000

County and city health department officials have sought local government help in recent weeks, citing facility and budget problems.

County department administrator Georgia Dillon asked commissioners to make repairs and assist with space problems at the building on South Eighth Street.

A survey of those needs has begun but no action has been taken.

"I really don’t know what the answer is, but we need help," Mrs. Dillon said.

The roof needs repaired; rooms are in disrepair; it’s overcrowded; and there are safety issues, she said.

Employees paint and do minor work to the building. The county pays for the building’s upkeep, Mrs. Dillon said.

But the department needs space most of all – for its 14 employees, the health commissioner and the dozens of programs it provides to the public free or at low-cost, she said.

"They’ve looked into several options in the past," she said, adding the issue seems to be either find a new location or bring the current one into compliance.

Commissioners have worked well with the health department before, so officials are optimistic, Mrs. Dillon said.

But commissioners say the county’s general budget is tight this year, and the area’s recent economic decline poses risks for next year’s.

The health department receives only about $500,000 in local funding, which includes a 0.28-mill levy, according to county auditor’s records. The state provides the remaining funds.

In the end, space needs created, or found, for the health department’s services, Mrs. Dillon said.

If it’s in the existing building, the waiting room, lab and exam areas all need work – for the patients’ benefit, she said.

Programs like pre-natal care, children’s health care, family planning, cardiac and hearing clinics, eye clinics, and the sanitation and inspection services need a home, she added.

"It’s for the people who use our facility."

Although the city health department shares the building with the county, officials there are seeking financial help from city council for the department’s nurse practitioner.

Last week, city Finance Committee members quizzed health department officials about a raise requested in their budget, saying other city workers will not receive raises.

Current nurse practictioner pay is $40,000 – about $10,000 lower than the position’s standard starting salary – and the department needs to make that salary competitive to make sure a nurse practitioner is there, health board officials told the Finance Committee.

Recruits will not consider a position that pays under $50,000, and without a nurse practitioner, the department could not offer the majority of its services, they said.

The department is considering boosting the salary to $45,000 now, or making incremental raises in the salary.

Finance Committee members said they understood the need but the city is facing a budget crisis with low revenue projections because of the recent job losses.

"I know we don’t have the money to keep increasing anybody’s budget," Roberts said.

It’s just bad timing for the health department, but the city will consider the proposal, the committee said.

The committee took no formal action.

The health board said it hopes a new state handicapped health program at the department in the coming year will cover the salary expense.