Voters to decide on 0.25-mill health levy in Huron County

NORWALK Phones ring constantly at the Huron County General Health District. This is b
Cory Frolik
May 24, 2010



Phones ring constantly at the Huron County General Health District.

This is because the department handles everything from restaurant inspections to pool licensing; from teen pregnancy prevention programs to clinic services to radon testing and birth and death records.

But unless voters approve the health district's 0.25-mill renewal levy on the Nov. 3 ballot, there could be fewer people to answer the phones and fewer to provide those services.

"It would be ugly -- you would have a lot of irate citizens who would no longer receive services that they assumed we have to do," which isn't the case, said Tim Hollinger, Huron County health commissioner. "We impact every citizen. We even impact everyone who drives through our county, if they stop at one of our restaurants."

Hollinger said he could be forced to cut 10 or more of his 28 employees and close the health clinic, which serves about 1,500 local people.

This would likely flood emergency rooms at local hospitals with uninsured residents who use the clinic as their primary care provider.

The number of locals the health district sees has spiked in the last two years in the wake of widespread layoffs and business closures.

But offering a health clinic is not a requirement under state law. Neither is providing vital statistics services. The department could also stop responding to nuisance complaint calls.

Without the local health department supplying birth and death records, residents would have to travel to Columbus.

The health district is broken into several divisions: environmental, medical, vital statistics and health education and preparedness.

The district's $1.897 million general fund revenue comes from grants (21 percent), fees and contracts for services (41 percent) and from three health levies (30 percent).

Although the five-year renewal levy generates only $210,000 annually -- a fraction of the department's entire budget -- the consequences of losing the levy money would be much deeper than it appears at first glance, Hollinger said.

Salaries account for about 80 percent of the department's budget, meaning a $210,000 cut would result in layoffs, health officials said.

Losing people means losing dependable sources of revenue because employees provide services that carry fees.

The five-year renewal levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $5.48 annually, said Huron County auditor Roland Tkach.

The issue: Huron County General Health District is asking voters to approve its .25-mill renewal levy.

How much: Costs the owner of a $100,000 home $5.48 annually.

What's at stake: The health district's ability to offer services ranging from clinic hours to vital statistic records to nuisance complaint responses.