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CITIZENS URGE COUNTY TO KEEP PUBLIC HEALTH

GOLD BEACH Citizens asked the county commissioners Monday to keep the Public Health Department within the county.

Dr. Bill Swartz and Diane Pace even came up with an alternative budget for the Public Health Department.

The two have also been instrumental in saving the countys Animal Control program.

Swartz said he had 25 years experience managing social and health programs in San Diego.

I had great concern when the commissioners said they would relinquish the countys public health authority, he said.

You dont get that back readily. I think the public health authority belongs in the county. It can best manage and respond to crises for local residents.

I believe the pendulum will change, said Swartz of the current budget situation. Dont deprive your successors their opportunity as the public health authority.

Im cautiously optimistic that changes can be made to run the Public Health Department on zero general fund dollars.

Swartz said the department took $103,000 from the general fund during the current fiscal year.

He said by reducing office hours in the three cities, $200,381 could be saved on salaries, putting the department nearly $100,000 in the black.

Swartz said the accounting system used by the county had under-recorded revenue for the first two months of each fiscal year.

He was confident the Public Health Department would see another $50,000 to $80,000 in revenue before the end of the current fiscal year.

He also proposed staffing the Brookings office three days a week instead of five, the Gold Beach office two days instead of five, and the Port Orford office one day instead of two.

He said the offices could run more efficiently, leaving ample time to provide quality services.

Swartz also said the department must have an at-a-glance fiscal monitoring system.

He said waiting three to six months to analyze the budget leaves too little time to adjust it.

His system would use proxies to measure revenues, revenue efficiency and expense efficiency. Actual reimbursements would be measured. It could be done weekly.

Swartz said Public Health Director Barbara Floyd put together a team to provide excellent services, but needed assistance on the financial side, either through more training or outside help.

He recommended the creation of an empowered oversight committee for the department, not just an advisory board.

He said it should include the liaison commissioner, a financial expert and someone from the client community.

Unlike Floyd, Swartz did not include projected incoming bioterrorism funds from the federal government in his proposed budget.

I cant believe it wont come with strings, he said. We need to know what the obligations are. I wouldnt spend that money in this budget, not a dime of it.

Swartz said the Public Health Department brings in an average of $69,000 a month, yet its total revenue for July and August was recorded as less than $3,500.

He said by the countys accounting method, it was already $100,000 in the hole after the first two months of the fiscal year.

The modified accrual method of accounting is not a good financial tool, said Swartz. He said it is more accurate to look at the last six months of revenue.

Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said that accounting method is required by budget law.

Swartz said he had only had time to do a quick overview of the budget. He said there were more savings to be found by looking closely at each of the departments 27 programs.

He said those not supported by revenue may have to be discontinued, unless they are worth it to the community.

Commissioner Lucie La Bont suggested that Swartz and Floyd get together to combine the best parts of their alternative budgets.

The commissioners had slated 20 minutes of their workshop for Swartzs presentation. All other speakers were limited to two minutes.

The first, Tom Seither of Gold Beach, ran over that. He said he understood the position the commissioners were in. He said, Chronic underfunding by the state has, in the past, forced the county to subsidize these services with scarce county general fund dollars, and I understand that future O&C funds are at risk.

I believe there is a win-win solution to this dilemma that does not involve dismantling current services at this late date in the budget deliberations.

Seither said one option would be to pare down services and run the department with no general fund subsidy.

Another would be to retain the county as the public health authority and contract out services.

He said the county could still be liable in claims disputes. He also said the contractors would provide lower wages and few benefits.

He said the result would be to drive down wages and benefits throughout Curry County, hurting local businesses and economic development.

Seither said the county could contract with another public health authority like Curry General Hospital, but its district does not cover the entire county. He also said it might be willing to take on only some of the programs.

Another option would be to partner with another county, like Coos, to provide services.

Finally, said Seither, the county could give its public health authority to the state, which would then either provide services from Salem or contract with someone in Curry County. Who would that be? he asked.

He said state officials were clear that giving authority back to the state would mean fewer services for the same dollars.

Mr. Engle was clear in his belief that public health services are best administered at the county level, said Seither.

He said excellent work is now being done by the city, county and state network for human services and public health in Curry County.

Why would we disrupt this network, he said, and force the state to start back at zero?

He also said it might keep the county from receiving its bioterrorism funds from the federal government.

Given these options, said Seither, I believe dismantling the current infrastructure is a bad idea, and the timing is horrible.

You would need at least a year to adequately plan out how the current services provided by our Public Health Department would be distributed and integrated into our community, or, more importantly, if these services will even be provided at all.

He said trying to hand over the program to the state in May, or to nonprofits by July, would almost ensure a disruption in services.

Seither recommended leaving the public health infrastructure in place, no matter what cuts had to be made.

Running public health out of Salem would be an exercise in disaster, he said.

Larry Blount, of Langlois, has many times chaired the Curry County Commission on Children and Families, and other boards.

Relinquishing public health authority to the state is a devastating thought, he said. I personally have strived for local control. We have the infrastructure in place. Folks here and locally do a better job.

Blount also said because U.S. Highway 101 is dangerous to drive during the winter, public health offices are needed in all three cities.

He said without the Public Health Department, the North Curry Children and Families Center could lose its building and funding.

Henry Lustig, of Ophir, asked what had happened in other counties that had relinquished their public health authority. He said specific questions must be answered.

In a nutshell, he said, are our commissioners attempting to solve a problem or literally passing the buck?

Former Curry County commissioner Don Buffington, a member of the budget committee, said, Ive seen Public Health go from nothing to where it is.

He said he was proud of the department, and would work to keep it if he could find a way in the budget to do so.

Walt Edwards, chairman of the Curry County Animal Control Advisory Board, said, They cant manage anything from Salem.

He said since Swartz could come up with a plan for the department in a week, he would like to see the same kind of examination of the sheriffs budget for possible budget cuts.

Port Orford Mayor Gary Doran said consolidation of services may be a good idea, but he would hate to see the Port Orford office closed.

There are a lot of low-income, underprivileged people who are not here today, he said, so Im speaking for them.

He said he understood the commissioners budget situation, because he is facing the same problems.

He asked the commissioners to reconsider their decision to close the Port Orford facility.

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