Money has become so tight in the Putnam County Health Department, the county is in danger of losing its county health officer.
Office manager Beth Glaze shared the sobering information with the Putnam County Council on Tuesday, asking for guidance on how to continue running the state-mandated office without the ability to pay staff.
The health department recently lost its environmental sanitarian to another employer, and the state and federal grant money that has funded personnel positions in the past has been drastically cut.
The county is now only funding the salary of Dr. Robert Heavin, a 20-hour per week public health nurse, and one-fourth of Glaze's salary.
"Do you want to just do away with us and let the state take over, or what are we going to do," Glaze asked council members Mitch Proctor, Keith Berry, Richard Lyon, Larry Parker, Jay Fogle and Don Walton at their monthly session.
State health commissioner Dr. Judith Monroe has already heard about the county's financial plight, Glaze said, and many small county health departments are in the same situation.
The health department is supposed to do inspections for restaurants and septic systems, Glaze said, but without the sanitarian, the only person left is the public health coordinator, who is paid via a $50,000 federal grant. But that position will be audited, and any federal funds spent on local work will have to be repaid.
A past remedy used by Dr. Heavin has been to allocate some of his salary toward the salaries of other employees. But the board of health recently voted to deny Heavin the ability to pay people out of his salary.
"They feel it is the county's obligation to provide for the health department," Glaze said of the board's intention.
Glaze noted that due to a cut in state and federal grants, her salary has been cut $1,400 this year. Most department employees also do not take the county insurance as a way to save funds. However, in trying to fill the vacant sanitarian position, the top four candidates contacted recently indicated they would want county insurance. That is a $13,000 expense, she said.
Auditor Stephanie Campbell told the council there are no available funds to cover that insurance cost.
Council members acknowledged the office is vital to the county.
"We have to keep that office going, because if we have a crisis in this county, we are really going to be hurting," council member Larry Parker said.
Parker said he talked to Heavin Monday, and the doctor is frustrated with the financial strain of the office.
Glaze acknowledged that Heavin is ready to resign unless a financial solution is found to allow the office to operate as it should.
"And if he goes, I'll go too," she said. "If the county is not going to take care of us, we'll call the state and see what the state has to say."
By now suffering the loss of the state and federal grants, council president Proctor said, the county has learned a lesson to no longer accept future grants to fund employment.
"We were trying to help the county by moving our pay off the county tax rolls," Glaze said.
Council member Richard Lyon stated he thinks the health department is just as important as any fire department in the county, so drawing money out the county's Hazardous Waste Fund could help the situation.
County attorney Scott Hoff, who has dealt with the state-restricted use of those funds, said he would have to see if spending the funds on the health department could be justified.
Parker agreed with checking on use of the Hazardous Waste Funds for the office.
"If there is a hazardous situation, they will be in the middle of it," he noted.
However, Proctor cautioned that if the council dips into that fund and then the state objects, there is no reserve money anywhere else to repay the fund.
For the time being, Glaze asked the council if interviews should be conducted to fill the environmental sanitarian position. The office is falling behind in its workload without that staff member.
The council agreed that since the salary remains in the budget, the person can be hired.
But discussion then moved to the possibility of using the county's Economic Development Income Tax to assist the health office.
Commissioner Gene Beck said the EDIT funds have not yet been allocated for the upcoming year, so maybe some funds can be shifted.
The council agreed that rather than the $15,000 suggested by Glaze as a necessity to keep the office running, it would likely take closer to $20,000 to finish the year.
The council voted to authorize a $20,000 increase to the health department budget, but no decision on where to get those funds was determined until a decision is reached on use of the EDIT funds and the Hazardous Waste Fund.
As the meeting drew to a close, Proctor warned that county office holders should probably start looking at their 2007 budgets already to anticipate any financial strain.
In other business Monday, the council:
-- Approved an additional appropriation for the sheriff to repair heating in the jail at a cost of $5,470.
-- Approved an additional appropriation of $2,184.39 from the jail cumulative fund to rewire the service panel in the jail.
-- Voted to transfer $50,000 in the highway department accounts to cover road resurfacing.
-- Learned the county has signed its declaration of county tax rates and turned that information over to the state.
-- Heard from Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter that he is electing to go from part-time prosecutor to full-time. He needs county council approval for the move. His salary and retirement is paid through the state. There is no additional liability to the county. Bookwalter said he will be closing his private practice. The council approved the move.
The Putnam County Council regularly meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the courthouse annex. The meetings are open to the public.