By Nancy Schaar
A financial crisis at the Carroll County health department has been averted.
Just hours before the Dec. 1 deadline to submit a balanced budget to the county auditor, Health Commissioner Leann Cline learned $400,000 was “found” in a health department account that will keep the health department alive and functioning through 2018.
Cline and Board of Health President Walter Scott Stine visited county commissioners Nov. 30 desperately seeking financial help so they could meet the balanced budget deadline.
“We have been trying to balance the budget. We just don’t have the funds we need to. Even after making cuts, $70,000 is still the difference. A levy was put on (the ballot) but it failed two times. An answer would be to pass a levy,” said Stine.
Cline responded to Stine’s comment, saying the department had a levy on the Nov. 7 election ballot and 63 percent of the voters voted no.
Cline and Stine proposed reducing employee hours and services beginning Dec. 1.
Cline said the cuts would be across the board to every employee: a reduction of five hours per week for each employee, an immediate cut of all health benefits for all employee, and termination of all services not required by law, including all services in the nursing division except for communicable diseases and a director of nursing.
Cline and Stine were asked how many employees the department had. Neither knew the figure.
Commissioner Bob Wirkner repeatedly tried to get a good picture of the financial distress on the department.
“At this moment we don’t have a cash flow problem. We need a commitment from local government to put more into the health fund for next year,” said Stine.
“There will be $22,000 available Monday, Dec. 4, from a rebate from Workman’s Compensation. That would be the health department’s share,” said Wirkner.
Wirkner continued to try to find out from Cline and Stine if that amount was included in the $70,000 the health department needed.
Cline and Stine were not sure if that amount would be deducted from the $70,000 or not.
Wirkner repeatedly asked Cline and Stine if they had confidence in their bookkeeper. No definitive answer was given to his questions.
Adam Litke, finance and human resources director for Lake County General Health District, joined the conversation by phone. Litke was hired Nov. 1 to take over the finances for the Carroll County Health Dept. Prior to that date, the department’s financial matters were handled by a health department fiscal officer, according to Cline.
Stine said one of the biggest problems has been the loss of any increase in from local government funds. A portion of the funds received by each township and each village is paid to the health department each year for its operation.
Local government funds were reduced a few years ago by the state. Townships and villages have been struggling to take care of their own responsibilities. Health department officials asked township and village officials for additional funds but were informed they cannot afford any increase.
“If we cannot increase local funding, we will have to go out of business as a local health district. We would become a satellite of another district or would have to join with another district. If we start now, it is about a two year process,” said Stine.
That idea was suggested to several surrounding counties and they are not interested, according to Litke.
“The state will provide money for a merge. But others don’t want one that is failing. It falls back to the county and subdivisions to shore up the balance,” said Litke.
One of the biggest drains on the district’s budget in the last couple of years has been the cost of hiring an employee to work on state accreditation, which is now required by the law.
Wirkner steered the conversation back to the budget.
“I met with the county auditor and the county is slightly ahead of last year (in income). But the requests we have from departments and office holder’s for the 2018 budget is half a million dollars more than our funds are expected to be. You need $70,000 to make this year float?” asked Wirkner.
“Yes. To ward off constant cuts and you can’t lose the accredited person. You have to have an accredited person to get grants,” replied Litke.
Wirkner expressed his frustration that he wasn’t getting a straight answer from Stine or Cline. “I’ve been trying to get a straight answer since Wednesday and we can’t get to the bottom line,” said Wirkner.
“You need an answer today. Your budget is due tomorrow. I would prefer having a full board to make this decision but we don’t have that luxury,” said Wirkner. Commissioner Jeff Ohler was not in attendance at the Thursday meeting.
Wirkner said in addition to the $22,000 from Workman’s Compensation rebates, commissioners could pull $48,000 from carry over funds.
After asking Lynn Fairclough, county auditor, if it is permissible to take $48,000 form the carryover and receiving an affirmative answer, Commissioner Lewis Mickley made the motion to do so.
“Approving anything is very hard for me because the voters said no to the health department when they voted on the levy. This is going against what the voters wanted. I do not feel right using taxpayer’s money to do this when they have said no. But no one wants the state to come in,” said commissioner Lewis Mickley.
Wirkner said the only reason he would ever consider this grant of funds is because of fear of the state coming in and presenting a bill that the county would have no control over but would be required to pay.
Commissioners were astonished Friday when Cline called their office to say that they had found $400,000 in their budget.
“We forgot to add grant income,” said Cline. She said with those funds they can keep all employees, there will be no cuts and health insurance will remain intact.
“We have a lot better news. It’s great news. Due to a miscommunication, we didn’t have all the numbers. It was just an oversight” stated Cline.
Cline said there will be many reductions and adjustments to the budget, such as cutting travel expenses, cost of supplies and maybe some of the immunizations.
Commissioners rescinded the motion to give the health department a one-time grant of $48,000 during the Dec. 4 meeting.
Cline was at Monday’s commissioner’s meeting and was pleased to officially report they did not need the $48,000 general fund monies that commissioners offered. She said that by adding $133,000 from the carry over funds, there will be only $33,000 left. Some health services will still have to be reduced or not provided.
When asked by the media how could she, the Board of Health members and their bookkeeper did not know there was $400,000 in grant money sitting there, Cline said on the Excel spread sheet there was a hidden tab.
“Thursday night when we were working on the budget cuts, we found the tab. It has been there for several years. It didn’t raise any red flags to any members of the staff. It just didn’t show up on the balance sheet,” said Cline.
Cline said Monday that the department has 17 employees. Twelve are full time and five are part time.
She noted that, although the department is solvent through Dec. 31, 2018 will present a difficult financial challenge.