Friday, Nov. 12


Proposed county budget depletes
health department reserves    
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[NOV. 12, 2004]  Logan County Health Department board members and employees made a show of force at last evening's adjourned county board session. They were there to question the absence of funding for their department in this year's county budget. The board submitted a request for $349,000, but when the budget came out for viewing, $0 had been allotted.

Mike Rohrer, president of the Logan County Board of Health, wanted to know why they had received no indication that the health department would not be receiving funding this year. The health board sent its request as usual.

They [the finance committee] didn't tell us that we weren't going to get our $349,000 that we had anticipated, he said. This did not give us a chance to rework our budget. "[They] were very silent in the whole process," he said. "I find that unusual in an environment where we should be working together."

The health department was established in 1970 by a county vote. As a referendum-based department, its funding is stipulated under state statute. Rohrer supplied copies of the pertinent state laws found under county code. He said he believes the intent is clearly stated that the county is obligated by statute to levy the tax and pass it through to the health department to spend according to the health department budget.

In summary it says, "Any county that establishes and maintains a health department shall levy annually a tax not to exceed .1 percent of taxable property, and that shall be paid into the county treasury and used only for the purpose of the county health fund." This statement includes state requirements established since 1937 to supply tuberculosis sanitariums.

In a post-meeting interview Rohrer said that the amount requested this year was based on 0.1 percent of the assessed property taxes in the county, met with consumer price index increases and was just over last year's amount.

While most programs at the health department are funded by state, federal and some private grants, such as from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, it is the county funds that keep the doors open. The funds are used for day-to-day operations such as building costs, staff, public health inspections and services, and some programs.

Dale Voyles, county board chairman, made the following clarifying statement: There are no funds being taken from the health department budget. There's no revenue for that fund. So they will be having to use their reserves, just as we are using ours, and depleting reserves until the next budget. We're not actually taking any funds that they have currently from them.

Voyles also reminded everyone that all committee meetings, including the budget meetings, which took place the end of August, were open to the public and all departments were invited to attend them.

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The health department has $500,000 in reserves for emergencies.

County board member David Hepler asked for examples of the types of emergencies this would be used for.

Ruben responded that tuberculosis has become a more of a problem in today's world and a constant awareness of terrorism.

Health department administrator Mark Hilliard provided more specific details. Active cases of TB currently cost between $5,000 and $7,000 each. He cited that currently Sangamon County has 10 of those -- the most they've had in decades, he said. If we were to have a TB case where the person developed antibody resistance tuberculosis, you're looking at $100,000 a case, he said.

Another type of situation another jurisdiction recently had to handle was cited. A food handler with hepatitis A infected 43 other people. All of their close contacts, almost 2,000, had to be vaccinated. It cost that health department about $150,000.

Finance chairman Chuck Ruben said that he couldn't address the legal aspect of the issue. The finance committee worked with their accountants, Sikich Gardner, who work with other counties as well, and they approved it. The question has been turned over to the state's attorney for his opinion. They are waiting for his response, Ruben said.

Because the cut to the health department budget forces them to dip into their reserve fund, which is intended for emergency use, the board has planned an alternative that may supply emergency funding if needed. A motion is ready for approval next Thursday to add a letter to the budget of the health department stating that they would try to implement a bond in an emergency situation. Statute 55ILCS 5/6-11001 allows the county to issue bonds under a different levy, Ruben said.

The county board is scheduled to vote on the new budget next Thursday, Nov. 18. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

[Jan Youngquist]

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