Trustees told to dig 10% deeper for county health share

The Washington County Township Trustees Association learned Thursday night at its bi-monthly meeting that their contribution to the Washington County Health Department will increase by 10 percent this year.

Though the department is in better financial shape than it was three months ago, the county health board needs the increased funding to see them through while they work to overhaul the department’s budget, board president Richard Daniell told trustees.

“I would not request any money at all if (the board) were not doing everything we can to improve the situation,” said Daniell.

The 10 percent increase means the townships will now be contributing $258,500 toward the county health department, around 21 percent of the department’s $1.2 million annual budget.

The trustees association did not get to vote to approve the increase. The decision had already made by the five members of the county health board, four of whom are elected by the trustees association.

It is the first increase the board has made in four years, pointed out Belpre Township Trustee Garry Merrow.

“We have not had any increase in four years,” Warren Township Trustee Jeff Knowlton agreed. “But we were given the idea that everything was going pretty good.”

The 10 percent increase will mean Warren Township will need to budget approximately $2,400 extra this year, he said.

The county health department has been in dire financial straights for the past three years, said Daniell. In December, the board opted not to renew the contract of Washington County Health Commissioner Kathleen Meckstroth, who made $65,508 annually.

In January, the department had to borrow money from the county to make payroll, said Daniell.

But the department appears to be fairing better after the implementation of several changes, said Marietta resident Dick Wittberg, who was hired by the board to serve as the new health commissioner on a part-time basis for the next three months at a salary of $500 a month.

“We’ve been able to make payroll for the past few pay periods. We’re starting to feel the effects,” said Wittberg, who also serves as the executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg.

Among other things, the board has implemented several financial changes at the Southeastern Ohio Dental Clinic, a health department entity which lost a $59,000 grant in January and was facing closure, he said.

At the dental clinic, the board increased the entry fee by $10, increased the price of nitrous oxide, had the staff assume janitorial duties, and instated a $25 penalty for those who skip appointments, said Wittberg.

In the overall health department, the amount of possible accrual time for vacation and sick days has been cut back, said Daniell.

The department is also looking at programs it could adopt which will soon be insurance eligible under new health care laws and therefore a potential source of income, said Wittberg.

Knowlton expressed concern over the management of funds over the past few years, but said he feels the department is heading in the right direction.

“At least it sounds like the right direction,” he said.

Washington County Township Trustees Association president Gene Morris agreed.

“The last three years they’ve had financial problems and we feel it wasn’t wisely spent. It wasn’t wisely budgeted,” he said. “But Mr. Daniell has been working on it. I think he’s doing a good job.”

Trustees in attendance unanimously voted to appoint Daniell to another five years on the board. His current five-year term had just expired.