Ottawa County’s Public Health funding remains a worry for many, and most people at Tuesday’s public hearing are attending in support of the health department.

Before approving the 2024 fiscal budget, commissioners have much to consider following the public hearing.

More than 100 healthcare providers signed a letter sharing the impact public health cuts will have on the county.

“I’m concerned that you’d be jeopardizing your tax base by jeopardizing the health care of our community,” Dr. Kurt Lindberg told Ottawa Commissioners.

The county’s budgeting process is in the final stretch.

“I would like you to severely think about your decision to defund the health department,” Dr. Michael Borenitsch said.

Recently, the hot topic is how to fund the county’s health department.

“I think if we want to make the health department better, and I think that’s what you want, you want to better health department. I don’t think the point is to defund them or take away their money,” Dr. Matt Olson said.

“Every time there’s a change of the guard, people are being replaced, new people are being brought in, budgets are reviewed. And I don’t understand the complaints or the fear associated with all these programs. I agree the Public Health Department is so important. But it’s also important to make sure that we’re using those funds for programs that have the most impact,” Kristen Meghan Kelly said.

At the meeting, Ottawa County Administrator John Gibbs explained to commissioners this proposed budget allocates more to public health than in 2019.

“The originally proposed FY24 Public Health budget, long before we took a deeper look at it at budget, would have been 26% higher than the current budget that is in front of us right now,” Gibbs said to the commissioners.

Under this new budget draft, the health department will get $4.3 million from the general fund. It will also use $1.7 million in rainy-day funds. This is up from the 2.5 million contributions that Commission Chairperson Joe Moss pitched.

Despite more money, there are proposed cuts to programs like immunizations, health education, family planning, and more.

Health Officer Adeline Hambley says her department might meet state funding requirements, but not adequate service levels.

“I don’t know that I see that as an issue. I would like to see that writing from MDHHS, until such time as I see that in writing from them. I do not consider that to be a substantiated claim,” Gibbs added.

Gibbs also explained that the health department added 40 staff members during the pandemic. Health officials say that number six remains funded with COVID grants, which are currently zeroed out after the request made by Moss. The chairperson suggested to remove these COVID grants back in August.

“So I believe it was very prudent to take another look at that, and make sure that was at appropriate levels,” Gibbs explained to commissioners.

Right now, the county budget sits at 263 million. That’s down from the initial draft released in August.

“Looking at the overall county budget, we are going to experience significant savings to the county budget as a result of what we’re looking at,” Gibbs said.

There are several new additions that will come out of the general fund. The first up is corporate counsel funding by $55,000, with Kallman Legal Group’s hourly rate bumping from $225 to $240 starting in January.

Then, more than $240,000 has been allocated to launch a new Veterans Affairs Department.

FOX 17 asked Commission Vice-Chair Sylvia Rhodea’s plans for providing services to veterans. Her answer was, “It’s coming out soon.”

Another area where FOX 17 noticed an increase is the county’s contingency. The draft budget sets aside more than $1.1 million. It’s the biggest increase in almost a decade. According to county records, the last time it was that high was to handle any potential salary increases found in a wage study.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget in two weeks.

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