Highland County voters will consider a 0.5-mill replacement levy for the Highland County Health Department in November, commissioners decided Wednesday.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner told commissioners Gary Abernathy and Terry Britton at the weekly commissioners meeting that the health department is still operating on the same amount of funding it had in 1989, when its last levy was approved. Commission President Jeff Duncan was absent Wednesday.
Warner said while the 1989 levy itself is 0.5 mills, it continues to generate the same amount of revenue as it did in 1989 because it is a renewal levy, not a replacement levy. As a result, it only generates the amount of revenue that a .195-mill levy would generate at today’s property values.
Warner said the proposed replacement, a 0.5-mill, five-year property tax levy, would amount to about $15.75 for each $100,000 valuation, a $9.59 increase from the 1989 levy, which amounts to $6.16 for each $100,000 of valuation. Warner said if the levy is approved, it will remain the smallest in the county.
The replacement would generate roughly $361,000 for the health department, about $200,000 more than the current levy.
According to Warner, levy funding makes up about 45 percent of the health department’s budget. The department does not receive general fund dollars from the county. Warner said the department has secured about $450,000 in grant funding since 2015, but the implementation of the grants is often restricted to specific initiatives and purposes, so costs like employee salaries must be paid for by non-grant funds.
Warner said increasing vaccine costs, health insurance prices and contract service expenses have caused the health department to operate at a loss since 2013.
The health department would use the increased funds to pay for ongoing operational costs, vaccines, technology maintenance and modernization efforts.
Warner said the department has already taken steps to reduce expenses and increase revenue, including increasing staff efficiency by reducing overtime and focusing on quality improvement; increasing agency visibility, which in turn increases revenue; and pursuing grant funding.
Also present at the meeting were health department Fiscal Officer Connie Page and county Auditor Bill Fawley.
The commissioners approved a resolution placing the matter on the ballot for the General Election.
The health department can be reached at 937-393-1941, or found online at highlandcountyhealth.org.
In other business, Abernathy and Britton said the county will submit an amended budget on Friday to a division of the Department of Justice for a more than $800,000 federal economic development grant for Rocky Fork Lake.
According to Abernathy, the implementation period for the grant was originally set to close in September, but the county can apply for a 12-month extension to implement the grant.
Abernathy said a revised budget will be reconfigured to allow more funds for law enforcement and blight abatement at the lake through the Highland County Sheriff’s Office and the health department.
As previously reported, the grant as awarded in 2016, and a portion of the funds was already released for a sheriff’s deputy to be posted in the lake area. But progress came to a screeching halt earlier this year when DOJ officials expressed concerns about several aspects of its administration, including the county land bank, which was to play a large part in blight abatement and economic development in the lake area.
In an overview distributed to those in attendance, Abernathy said the county is “dropping the land bank component” of the grant because DOJ officials have seen it as too problematic.
“However, we are not abandoning the land bank, which we believe is an important economic tool going forward,” the overview said. “We are exploring other means to make the land bank a reality outside of this grant.”
Abernathy said the amended budget will allow for three deputies to be posted at the lake if it is approved, as well as more funding for the health department to conduct cleanup of blighted properties.
Abernathy added that while the deadline for submitting the grant is Friday, officials will be allowed to make changes later if needed.
Britton said if this latest effort to salvage the grant is unsuccessful, it will be the county’s “last attempt.” Britton said working on the grant “has been a struggle to say the least.”
Also Wednesday, Britton said the commissioners sent a letter of termination to United HealthCare, the county’s health insurance provider. The county is switching to Medical Mutual for its health insurance. Warner asked if Highland District Hospital is in the Medical Mutual network, and Britton said it is.
The commissioners also approved a resolution appointing Abernathy to all the boards on which former Commissioner Shane Wilkin served.
Commissioners also approved routine contracts and financial resolutions.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.