EATON — On Monday, Feb. 1, Preble County Commissioners met with PC Public Health Commissioner Erik Balster and PC Auditor Lavon Wright to discuss the placement of a public health levy on the May election ballot.
According to Wright, Balster had emailed stating the health department would need $600,000 to have a “sustainable” budget.
“I want to again express my gratitude again to you for listening to our rationale, and our organizational process, and really what we are excited to do — and some of the challenges we’ve had in doing those things,” Balster added during the meeting.
Balster said he is in regular communication with neighboring counties, as well as counties of like-size populations to Preble, and with similar programs.
He said the budget request “is very modest for what we do, for what all that we offer, and that we wish we could further offer to the public.”
The funds would help the department be more efficient and have additional staffing hours to help with the many challenges.
“It’s more time to do the things that we do — we have a lot of people that are under 40 hours,” Balster said. “We would certainly be able to do things in a more timely manner, but also in addition to that, all hours of the week versus, you know, just some days.”
One example was being able to have nursing staff on hand every day of the week, and not just Wednesdays.
An older levy from 1976 was recently renewed, and only brings in approximately $72,000 to the department, according to officials, due to foreclosures and other issues. According to Wright, the requested levy would be “.6 mills with an increase.”
“Not because we love to increase taxes, obviously — because that’s what he’s saying that he needs,” she said.
“You know, for the ‘76 levy, obviously things have changed since then, as far as cost of doing business, and that’s been a habitual issue,” Balster said. “For me, my predecessor, their predecessor, and the predecessor before that.”
Grant funds, which come and go according to Balster, fund and supplement programming, nursing, etc. These also helped fund things like immunizations, “things that are, generally, unfunded mandates which is a requirement for all health departments to do,” Balster added.
Wright reviewed budget documents showing the department spends “just about every dime that they have.”
Preble County Public Health currently has 19 employees, with 15 full-time-equivalent, down from 28 a decade ago. Seven of the full-time employees are 40-hour employees, according to Balster.
Also discussed was the management and oversight of the department.
“I would very much like to get a legal opinion from our prosecutor related to the board that oversees the health department, and how we currently do it in Preble County,” Commissioner Rachael Vonderhaar said. “What is listed in the Ohio Revised Code — to get the feedback as to how we’re operating. And then, at what point this board handed over its authority for sitting on that board and overseeing the health department in that respect.
“I would like to know that we’re being responsible for the people of Preble County, and make sure that we’re functioning the way that we should,” she said.
“We’ve always had the same oversight, that appoints the members of the health board, but we’re only one entity,” Commissioner Adam Craft interjected.
“We don’t have any additional — as stated in the Ohio Revised Code — any additional oversight of their day-to-day operation,” he added.
Balster noted, the PCPH Advisory Board is made up of one commissioner, representatives from each township, any mayor of any city in the county, and a member for the district licensing council — approximately 26 people. As president of the commission, Vonderhaar holds the commission position.
Commissioner David Haber questioned whether there was any intent of giving employees pay raises with additional funds which could be garnered by the tax measure.
“We’re not looking for raises,” Balster said. “I will say we haven’t had a cost of living [increase] for any employees since 2016, so they’ve all been at that same rate. I think generally, any business tries to at least account in their budget for a cost of living, at a minimum, when possible. And I don’t anticipate not looking at that in the future, whether it be this year, next year — when it’s possible. I can only lose so many employees because they will be paid more picking up garbage than, you know, giving people shots. We’re not going to give anyone exorbitant raises.”
After additional discussion, commissioners unanimously approved a resolution requesting the Preble County Auditor “certify to the total current Tax Valuation of Preble County, and the amount of revenue to be generated by, 0.6 mil replacement with an increase, tax levy,” a first step necessary before any additional action is taken.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr