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Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Expenses, position cut after levy fails

By Shelley Grieshop
Health department board members wasted no time making cuts after a property tax levy failed at the polls Tuesday.
One employee was terminated following an executive session held during the Wednesday luncheon meeting of the Mercer County-Celina City Board of Health. Layoffs, reduced services and unpaid holidays also are part of a cost-cutting plan.
Board members abolished the position of fiscal director, held by Aaron Mayes. He was hired in May 2011 and was paid $45,000 plus $21,000 in benefits.
"His skill set will be sorely missed," agency administrator Dale Palmer said.
Board members also approved a 7 percent or $70,000 reduction to the agency's 2012 budget to counter financial shortfalls following the defeat of the 0.6-mill levy. The cut comes on top of a 10 percent reduction made earlier this year.
The termination of Mayes' position will help achieve the 7 percent, although Palmer noted the savings likely will be offset by the cost of unemployment benefits. Palmer's overall goal is to ensure a carryover balance of $125,000 into 2013, he said.
A proposed measure to balance the budget involves temporarily terminating holiday pay for staff members. Other options are "specific employee layoffs and modified work weeks," Palmer said. Details weren't provided.
"We know what we need to do," he said.
Board members briefly spoke about placing another tax levy on the November ballot and reducing the millage, but no decision was made. More discussion is slated at the health department's annual district advisory committee meeting March 26.
The countywide proposed tax levy would have generated $530,274 annually or about 48 percent of the agency's budget. The health department's estimated revenue for this year is $774,912 with expenses estimated at $895,106. The agency had a carryover of $132,882 going into this year.
Health officials believe a weak economy and poor ballot language were factors in the levy's defeat.
"I don't think people were ready to take on a new tax right now," Palmer told the board.
He said the economy is still fragile and people are hesitant to support any new debt. He also spoke about feedback he received from several residents who thought the ballot language was confusing. He discussed the matter with election officials prior to Tuesday, but no changes were made, he said.
Palmer said other factors such as low voter turnout and a lack of support from community officials also led to the unsuccessful endeavor.
Another cut made Wednesday was the elimination of a non-mandated service that costs the department in time and labor. By unanimous approval, board members opted not to renew an agreement with Ohio EPA that requires the agency to help homeowners seeking National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to install discharging septic systems.
"We have to eliminate something," board member Diane Lefeld said.
Sanitarian Michelle Kimmel - who brought the issue to the board's attention - said residents can deal directly with the EPA. The health department will still provide guidance if needed, she added.
The board learned from director of nursing Joyce Jansen that administrative fees for services such as immunizations were being raised from $10 to $12, effective April 1. Auglaize County is doing the same, she added.
The fee increase did not require board action. In January, the board approved a proposal by Jansen to make the fee flexible so it can be raised as expenses increase.
The board also handled the following issues at the meeting:
• Learned the agency is moving forward with a plan that allows residents to pay for services with credit or debit cards. A sign will be posted warning that a 3 percent fee will be charged to offset the bank's fee for each transaction. The system should be in place in two to three months, Palmer said.
• Approved a food service license for Bright Future Daycare, a new business in Fort Recovery. The license is considered "low level" because business owners will only serve the food brought in by children, use a microwave to heat items and distribute milk.
• Learned cases of the seasonal flu spiked recently but remain sporadic. Three influenza hospitalizations were reported in the county since the season began last fall, Jansen said.
• Learned longtime Allen County Health Commissioner Dave Rosebrock is retiring. Local health commissioner Dr. Philip Masser said Rosebrock was his mentor and gave guidance to many area health departments.
"We were extremely blessed to have his help ... His presence will be missed across the state," he said.
• Learned the next board meeting is at noon April 4 in the Central Services Building in Celina.
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