|PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICE LIKELY VICTIM OF BUDGET CUTS|
|March 25, 2002 11:00 pm|
By BILL LUNDQUIST
GOLD BEACH The Curry County Commissioners erased $313,396 from the countys budget deficit Monday, but at the cost of the entire Public Health Department and several employees in other departments.
No one knows how much money will be saved by returning the public health responsibilities to the state.
County Commissioner Marlyn Schafer estimated $70,000 could be saved in the first year, plus more from the sale of the countys North county building, but that wasnt included in the $313,396 of cuts made Monday.
Also not included in the tally were several positions eliminated in the Human Services Department, because that departments budget is still out of balance.
Some of the gains disappeared on Tuesday when the commissioners tried to tackle the remaining $185,862 of the projected deficit for fiscal year 2002-03.
The commissioners attempted to put out the brush fires during hastily-scheduled meetings with various department heads Tuesday afternoon, and hope to finish balancing the budget today (March 27).
The commissioners would like to balance the budget during this weeks workshops and present it to the full county budget committee when it meets April 15.
None of the decisions made so far are official, including the closure of the health department, but County Counsel Jerry Herbage said the commissioners authority to lower the budget is limited only by state and federal requirements and mandates.
It hurts, said Schafer of the decision to turn the Public Health Department back to the state. It hurts like heck.
Schafer said there was no other choice. She told Public Health Director Barbara Floyd that she had overestimated her revenue and exceeded her budget every year since 1998.
She said Floyd appeared to be doing so again by including $50,000 in revenue from federal bioterrorism funds for the coming fiscal year.
Schafer said no one knows when any of the Homeland Security money will come through.
I dont see you ever coming up to your predicted revenue, she told Floyd.
We need to give public health back to the state, said Schafer. We cant afford to run the health department with the money we have.
If we continue with the health department, she said, the county will be bankrupt in three years.
Floyd said her department was making progress financially. We can run on our projected budget for next year.
Commissioner Lucie La Bont said other counties of similar population operate health departments for less money.
Floyd said some run on less and some run on more. We will run on what you give us, she said. We will figure something out.
Schafer said she doesnt see more state and federal money coming down for public health in the future.
She said it is time to figure out what the county can do for its citizens and what things it can do best.
She said the state is mandated to provide for five areas of public health, and will come in and run the program.
Schafer conceded the level of service may not be as good as the county now provides. She also said the county may not save more than $70,000 during the coming fiscal year because of the unemployment costs of closing the department.
The county will lay off 17 full time public health employees, including Floyd, four department specialists, two public health educators, an administrative assistant, five community health nurses, a healthy-start family services coordinator, a WIC coordinator, a womens health coordinator, and an environmental health coordinator.
Part-time employees cut will include a medical officer, a registered dietician, two irregular employees, and two OB-GYN nurse practitioners.
Floyd said the maximum the county would have to pay for unemployment would be $141,908.
County Budget Officer Geoff Buchheim said that was based on Floyds projected salaries, not current ones.
Schafer said the county will not project having to pay the maximum amount, because many of those people will find jobs, and may even be hired by the state.
Floyd also said the county will have to return about $30,000 in environmental health fees to the state if it closes the department.
Schafer said other gains could be had by closing the Brookings public health office and selling the Port Orford building.
La Bont wondered if it would be worth going out for a public health levy. Floyd said the whole county needs it, not just her department.
Schafer said with public health taking $148,000 from the general fund, it would have to go back to the state.
Its a very ill-considered proposal, said Floyd, doing away with a significant county department with no public discussion.
We have made huge progress, she said, and asked for another year while the public decided whether it wanted the department or not.
La Bont said if Floyd could reduce the drain of her department on the general fund to $50,000, she would give her that year.
Schafer said the county can no longer backfill budgets that are supposed to be funded entirely by the state.
La Bont said if shed lobbied the state any more on that issue, she would have had to register as a lobbyist. She said the message was not heard.
If the state wants us to do these things, let them give us the money, said La Bont. The state and federal governments may have to look at their priorities.
Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf said shed given public health a lot of thought, but cuts would have to be made to balance the budget. She instructed Floyd to work on how to give public health back to the state.
Schafer said, I just want to live within our means. We have to make decisions not just for today, but for tomorrow.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the sheriff had not lost any of his six patrol deputies.
His Community Corrections Division, however, will not be able to fill two vacant positions in the Work Center and Adult Parole and Probation, and will have to lay one parks technician off.
Because of unemployment costs, the total departmental savings for the coming fiscal year will be $35,684.
That could be erased by the legacy of the former community justice director, however. He had been using an alcohol and drug treatment grant on all offenders. It was intended only for those incarcerated or on probation.
The $40,000 will have to be made up either by Community Corrections or by Human Services, which took on the treatment program of the defunct community justice department.
The Human Services Department was already facing steep cuts.
Director Deb Wilson proposed cutting herself, her business manager, her finance coordinator, a developmental disabilities specialist, and three addictions specialists to four days a week.
Wilson said she works more than 40 hours a week now, and would continue to do so.
She would also leave a department specialist and an addictions specialist position vacant, and would lay off one addictions specialist.
She proposed cutting $30,000 in hospitalizations and $53,183 from administration, mental health, developmental disabilities and addictions.
La Bont felt the developmental disabilities program should also be turned back to the state, but Wilson said the $20,000 spent returns $69,222 back to county departments annually. The other commissioners have not made up their minds on that program.
They had attempted to balance the budget of computer services by charging an hourly fee to non-general fund departments.
Schaaf said Wilson later told her she could not pay the $50,000 asked and still balance the Human Services budget. Home/Health Hospice was also struggling with the computer services charge.
The commissioners worked with both departments Tuesday afternoon and will resume budget-cutting today.