County health district faces budget shortfall

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The district is projecting a $351,171 deficit for next year and has sent letters to the cities, townships and villages it serves saying they will have to pay their share.

Aurora would be charged the most _ $74,181 _ while Brady Lake Village would pay the least _ $972.

The health district serves all of Portage County except the cities of Kent and Ravenna, inspecting food establishments, public swimming pools, private septic systems, mobile home parks and providing public health services.

Its projected 1999 budget totals $1.182 million in expenses and $831,258 in revenues.

The red ink is the result of voters' rejecting two levies in the May 5 primary. A 0.4-mill replacement levy that would have generated about $660,000 and a 0.6-mill additional levy that would have raised about $1 million annually for the department.

The board of health has until August to decide whether to go back on the ballot in November. As it stands, its 1999 tax budget includes no tax revenues.

It also includes no revenues from the county's solid waste management district for continued inspections of closed landfills. The county and the health department are in the final year of a three-year contract. And the county cut the amount to be paid this year.

The Portage County Budget Commission came to commissioners Tuesday, asking if the county would sign a new pact with the health district, which would help offset _ but not eliminate _ charge-backs to the localities.

"Certainly none of the political subdivisions are happy with the numbers being proposed they would have to pay out of their general fund," said Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, who chairs the budget commission.

This year the health department received $166,000 for the service, but Commissioner Chuck Keiper said the county probably will not sign more than a one-year contract in the future and probably for not more than the current amount.

Keiper understands the financial constraints faced by the townships, he said.

"The last thing we want to see is townships get hit hard" by charge-backs, because of their limited ability to raise funds, he said.

Commissioner Kathleen Chandler said the county is reviewing alternatives, such as hiring a sanitarian to perform the tests.

But DuWayne Porter, director of environmental health for the county's health department, said state law indicates that a certified health department must make such inspections. The prosecutor's office has been asked for a definitive ruling, Porter said.

Vigluicci said state law is clear on the health department's ability to charge back deficits.

Local governments have a July 20 deadline to submit their budgets to the budget commission. The commission is hoping to have the situation resolved by its September deadline to turn budgets into the state.

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