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Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

County Health Dept. levy fails

2012 primary

By Shelley Grieshop
Program and personnel cuts are looming after voters Tuesday overwhelmingly defeated a proposed countywide property tax levy to fund the local health department.
The 0.6-mill levy in support of the Mercer County-Celina City Health Department was crushed by 66 percent of voters. Unofficial results show 5,178 votes against it and 2,665 in favor.
The levy would have generated $530,274 annually or about 48 percent of the health department's yearly budget and replaced the $269,500 now paid each year by townships, villages and the city of Celina.
Dale Palmer, health department administrator, said he was "obviously disappointed" but respects the will of voters.
"The people clearly stated 'no,' " he said.
Palmer said the department already reduced this year's budget by 10 percent and more cuts are on the horizon. The health board meets today and likely will approve an additional budget cut of 7 percent ($70,000) to ensure an adequate carryover into 2013, he said.
"Later this year we'll discuss with the DAC (district advisory committee) which non-mandated programs to cut," Palmer said. "We can't do it all."
Reductions in personnel are "probable," he said, but he did not give specifics. Salaries and benefits account for 71 percent of the health department's budget. The health department's estimated revenue for this year is $774,912, with expenses at $895,106. The agency had a carryover of $132,882 going into this year.
The levy was proposed last year after several township trustees complained that reductions in state funds and other revenues were affecting their ability to subsidize the health department. Each of the 14 townships pay the health department an annual fee based on their total property valuation. The amounts range from $4,111 to $20,519.
Marion Township Trustee Larry Reichert on Tuesday evening said he doesn't know how the township will continue to support the health department.
"We're hoping the county commissioners will be able to help," he said.
The county is mandated by law to provide at no cost the office space used by the health department in the Central Services Building. It is the only financial support the county provides the agency.
In November, Marion Township voters nixed a five-year, 1-mill levy for township operating expenses. Trustees now are in the process of implementing a $5 motor vehicle tax, which residents do not vote on, to generate $17,260 annually - $744 more than the township pays each year to the health department.
Second reading on the proposed tax will be held at the township trustees meeting Monday night.
Five townships have adopted the motor vehicle tax.
County prosecutor Andy Hinders, legal adviser for the townships, said a meeting with trustees and fiscal officers to discuss finances is slated for March 13. Townships must review their mandated and non-mandated duties and decide what steps to take, he said.
"Services are going to get cut," he added.
Election results are unofficial until an official count is held within two weeks of election day.
Additional online stories on this date
Mercer County will have a new commissioner next year as challenger Rick Muhlenkamp defeated incumbent Bob Nuding in the Republican primary Tuesday night. [More]
NEW BREMEN - Voters in the New Bremen Local school district on Tuesday soundly defeated a combined 7.55-mill bond issue and permanent improvement levy to finance the construction and maintenance of a new K-8 building. [More]
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