05/30/08 — Savings will help health department

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Savings will help health department

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 30, 2008 1:48 PM

Savings already on hand will cushion a financial blow dealt to the Health Department last week, officials say.

County officials told department managers that the department will receive $400,000 less than requested in the 2008-09 budget.

The department had asked for $2.4 million from the county but will get only $2 million, Health Director James Roosen told members of the county Board of Health. But money that had been saved from previous budgets will enable the department to make up the difference, he noted.

"We've got a lot of money in savings so Ken (Stern, the department's financial officer) has covered our expenses with those savings," Roosen said. "I'm OK with it for next year and the following year. ... Then the problem will be how to cover those expenses with your hard-earned savings."

The money on hand -- an estimated $2 million -- gives the Health Department some "financial freedom," Roosen said.

Beyond the next couple of years, though, he said it will be important to find other resources to increase revenues.

"This Health Department has done a real good job, I think, with savings," he told the board. "We have had about $2 million in savings the last few years. So fiscally it makes sense -- if I was the county manager, I would say, 'Use some of your savings during these lean times.'"

The $7.9 million proposed budget, which includes a 2 percent cost of living increase for staff, was approved by the board, but not unanimously. Board member Ira Thigpen was the only dissenting vote.

Thigpen had some concerns about merit increases for staff. The increases were cut this year for all county employees, Roosen said.

"This is the second year in a row it's been taken out of the budget," Stern noted.

There simply was no money available to provide the raises, described as incentives to compensate staff for exceeding goals, Roosen said.

Even though the clause expressly states that merits will be given "if money is available," Thigpen said to offer them and not follow through is like "dangling a carrot" in front of employees.

"It's a morale-killer is what I would call it," he said.

With a 20 percent turnover rate in the Health Department, Roosen agreed that it had been a good incentive.

Still, he added, the budget does include the cost of living raise and increase for health insurance, as well as the retirement, 401-K and other benefits.

Roosen expressed pride in the job the Health Department does with the money it has available.

"We have been requested to reduce our budget several times," he said. "What the budget means in terms of human services, our ability to do public services that are greatly needed in Wayne County."

Pregnancy rates have gone down 9 percent in recent years, he said, while the prenatal care program sees more than 700 patients a year. Infant mortality rates have also seen a decline -- 11 deaths in 2006 compared to 22 in 2005.

"We're also providing access to cancer prevention," Roosen said. "We detected 17 cases of cancer this past year, linking them with people to treat them. ...

"(The Health Department works) to cure diseases, prevent diseases, save lives and improve quality of life in Wayne County. So that's what this budget represents to me."