Health Department seeks levy renewal

The Erie County Health Department will ask voters to renew a 0.5-mill operating levy in November. The levy generates about $1 million a year for the health department, accounting for roughly 15 percent of its $6.5 million operating budget. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $13.74 a year for the levy.
Shawn Foucher
May 14, 2010

The Erie County Health Department will ask voters to renew a 0.5-mill operating levy in November.

The levy generates about $1 million a year for the health department, accounting for roughly 15 percent of its $6.5 million operating budget. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $13.74 a year for the levy.

"We feel that a renewal levy at this time would be appropriate," said Pete Schade, Erie County health commissioner. "With the way we've been managing and running the department, a renewal would be prudent."

County commissioners on Thursday agreed to write up a resolution on the issue, which would officially place the 5-year levy on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Three levies collectively account for about 36 percent of the health department's total revenue stream. The lion's share of its revenue -- about $4.3 million -- comes from grants, program fees and other costs.

Schade said he and his staff have made deliberate efforts to increase grant funding in recent years, specifically to lessen the health department's reliance on levies.

"Our non-levy revenue has gone up quite drastically," Schade said.

Five years ago, the health department was running an annual deficit of about $350,000. These days, its budget is in the black, and it has $1.5 million in reserve funding.

The health department weathered some criticism earlier this year when board members approved 1-4 percent raises for some employees -- including administrators -- but Schade said there's more to the story.

Employees accepted a new health plan to help save the agency about $135,000 a year, and additional savings are expected this year, Schade said. Further, a few positions left vacant by retirements were not filled, while some jobs were merged and others were covered with grant funding.

The raises were offered as merit for job performance, and for accepting extra duties employees absorbed when positions were vacant. Some of the savings from the new health plan was also directed toward the wage increases.

Even so, the result was an overall savings for the budget -- despite any wage increases, Schade said.

"You can't ask for a governmental agency to run itself with better buy-in from employees," Schade said. "We're not just throwing money around.

"We run like a business," he said. "Not making a profit, but having (revenue) cover costs."