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Archive for Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Health department braces for painful cuts

Uncertainty about funding further aggravates budget headaches

March 17, 2009

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The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is awaiting word from city and county commissioners on funding.

The health department, which provides everything from health screenings to food inspections to health education, is bracing to raise fees and cut staff positions in 2010. But it has no idea by how much or how deep. By now, they usually have an inkling of what lies ahead.

“We usually know something by now,” Director Dan Partridge said. “We haven’t gotten anything this year.”

Partridge outlined possible ways to cut costs and raise revenues during the monthly board meeting Monday night. Among the ways to “make ends meet” were:

• No cost-of-living adjustment for employees. It would be the second-consecutive year.

• No replacement for a full-time secretary and public health nurse.

• Reduce or freeze wage increases based on merit. This year, employees are eligible for a possible 2.5 percent or 5 percent increase. Partridge said it’s hard to retain workers without such awards.

• A 10 percent increase in pool licensing fees. They would go from about $120 to $135.

• A 2 percent increase in child care licensing fees. These range from about $35 to $200, depending on the size of the center.

“It’s just tough,” said Dr. Alan Cowles, board chairman, shaking his head. He said it’s also difficult to move forward without answers on funding at the state and local levels.

The health department’s budget this year is $3.2 million and Partridge is hoping to at least maintain a budget above the $3 million mark.

“We’ve got to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Partridge said. “We’ve been working months to make adjustments and make it as painless as it can be. It won’t be pain-free, I am sure.”

Cutbacks are nothing new for the health department. Board members were facing a $100,000 deficit in 2008, so they cut salaries, among other things, at the mid-year point. The result was a $40,000 surplus at year’s end. The health department had to cut another $204,000 from its budget for this year.

No matter how the economic times unfold, one thing is for certain: the health department will adjust.

“Bottom line. We will make the ends meet as we have to,” Partridge said. “Even though you don’t show up at our doors, we haven’t forgotten about you and we are still serving you. We still want to improve your health and we are working to figure out ways to do that.”

The health department is working to earn accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. The board is developing and implementing the accreditation program, and Partridge hopes the Lawrence department can be one of the pioneers.

“To me, it is a demonstration of our value to the community. It’s affirming to the community that what we do makes a difference, has an impact, improves their health and that there are tangible results from our efforts,” Partridge said.

— View health and environment reporter Karrey Britt’s health beat blogand follow her at Twitter.com.

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