***During and after the contentious discussion and repeal of the Barry Eaton District Health Department Time of Sale or Transfer regulation (TOST), the possibility of Barry County breaking away and establishing its own health department was also promoted by some. The issue has not gone away.
What follows are the opinions of some who are for or against a Barry County Health Department, along with their reasoning.
Barry County Commissioner and Health Board member David Jackson:
“As a Commissioner for the past three years, there have periodically been individuals pushing the discussion on the possibility of a health department separate from Eaton County. I think it’s my responsibility to be open minded about all ideas that represent the best interest of Barry County families. With those discussions, I have yet to see a realistic plan than saves the tax payer’s money or provides better level of services for Barry County residents.
Currently we have a Health Department that is structured to share resources with Eaton County with cost allocated based on the population of the two counties. This affords both counties a tremendous savings by sharing the cost for the health department and not having to pay for all the overhead, payroll and fringe benefits individually.
It’s rare to find effective, cost conscious collaboration between counties that provides a level of service to the tax payer that would be extremely expensive to be replicated by the counties individually.
Our health department is a nationally accredited organization staffed with professionals. They provide a valuable service to our community protecting public health across many levels. The world continues to become a more dangerous place and the news has no shortage of PFAS water contamination, Hepatitis outbreaks, toxic algae blooms and other increasing health threats to our citizens.
At this point, creating a separate health department would cost Barry County tax payers substantially more money or dramatically cut services or both. I don’t support putting our citizens at risk and cutting the needed services many of our residents depend on.”
Barry County Citizen Bob Schaffer, former environmental health director at BEDHD (1962 to 1988).
“I support a separate health department for Barry County. There is too much administrative overhead and there would be considerable cost savings if office staff didn’t have to travel to another county. I would be willing to work with anybody who thinks there should be changes; I have some background in that.
When I was there, there was a medical health officer, environmental officer and a director of nursing. They added another layer with a non-medical officer, sometime after I left in 1988.
I think the biggest thing is local control. Your board of health doesn’t need to be all commissioners. With Barry County alone, you could have two from the public and three commissioners for five people on the board.
That would save more money and not have just elected officials on the board; people would know what’s going on. There is so much talk about people unhappy with the health department; there’s this complaint, that complaint. I think the commissioners should appoint an ad hoc committee to study it and bring back a recommendation. I think that would get rid of complaints and people asking all these questions.”
Eaton County Commissioner and Health Board Member Blake Mulder:
“I find it very odd that any group of reasonable people would advocate for the dissolution of the Barry Eaton Health Dept. First of all, the existence, functions and duties of the county health departments are mandated by State Law, so whether operated as a single county or multi-county district department is a matter of local preference.
As tax paying citizens we are demanding more efficient and cost effective government. Collaboration and shared services decrease administration overhead, information/technology costs, reporting and auditing fees, we are all saving money.
The current BEHD Chairman Ben Geiger has made sure each county is paying their appropriate portion of funding, albeit, that the majority of funds to run the Health Dept. are from the state and federal government.
As a unified health department, staff resources can be moved to the area of need, a Norovirus contamination in Hastings, or Hepatitis A virus outbreak in Eaton. Both countries benefit.
I don’t want to waste my tax dollars, but I do want to know that the restaurant I just had dinner in was inspected by a qualified county sanitarian and that the young, low income mother has nutritious food and vitamins for her baby.
Thank you Barry Eaton Health Dept.”
Barry County Citizen Jack Miner:
“I support Barry County establishing its own health department separate from Eaton County.
We can save between $350,000 and $400,000 annually by having an independent Health Department. The taxpayers of Barry County should not be burdened with the excessive costs of the BEDHD.
In the 2017-18 budget, salaries for five executives of the department were set at almost $750,000, including fringe benefits, in a fiscal year that there were less than 70 employees and a total budget of less than $7,000,000. The director was paid more than $150,000, including fringe benefits; more than Barry County’s administrator is paid. He is tasked with administration of over 250 employees, budgetary management of over $16 million and supervision of over $30 million additional pass thru funds.
The eight mandated public health services are food protection, private groundwater/public water supply, on-site sewage disposal, hearing screening, vision services, sexually transmitted disease control and prevention, immunization and infectious disease control. Cherry Health provides hearing, vision and immunization services locally. There are several other duplications of services and non-mandated services provided by the BEDHD. Dental care and mental health are provided only in Eaton County.
BC has a world class mental health service that would handle these issues if we had a stand-alone health department. A BCHD could use Cherry Health for the mandated services passing along the funds from the state, saving staff, management and facilities costs. The Hastings BEDHD building is too large for its present use, yet BC pays more than $130,000 annually for its operating costs.
Give us a BCHD with local control over costs and three citizen members on its board to help three county commissioners oversee its operation.”
Eaton County Commissioners and Health Board member Jane Whitacre:
“I think it is financially impractical for the two counties to split. I agree that the counties have their differences. Most of the BEDHD programs are required/ mandated. That infrastructure/ administrative cost is only affordable for us when supported by two counties.
“The Barry commissioners would short change their county residents by splitting off. They’d have to spend a lot more local money too. I think we have an excellent health dept. and staff. They face life and death issues for the public and serve us well. They are the public health experts, not county commissioners.”
Barry County Citizen Larry Bass:
“Is Barry County best served by continuing participation in the current Barry Eaton District Health Department? After my involvement in the repeal of the Time of Sale or Transfer Regulation (TOST) and attending Board of Health meeting for nearly five years, I believe that Barry County should initiate a comprehensive study to determine if a new direction needs to be forged.
The following questions need to be asked;
1. Are the demographics and needs between the counties still similar enough to continue the current format of the district?
2. Since Barry County’s population is 50 percent of Eaton Counties are the citizens of Barry County getting equal focus on health issues that may arise?
3. Are there programs that are not state mandated being offered by BEDHD and what are the cost associated with those programs? There have been prior requests for this information.
4. A Barry County commissioner has requested that a study be performed to insure that the BEDHD staffing is the right size for the scope of mandated programs. This still needs to be performed.
5. The budget and budgeting process needs to be more accessible to the public in terms of readily providing information without some elements being treated as a need to know basis and you don’t need to know.
6. The Freedom of Information Act requests need to be treated in more customer friendly basis. Currently, it appears that the process in operated on a basis to discourage requests and add extremely high charges for requests.
7. Are the fees that Barry County residents are being charged in line with those fees in neighboring health departments?
8. Is it fiscally responsible to form an independent Barry County Health Department and would the residents lose health program access if separation occurs?”
Eaton County Commissioner Brian Droscha: “There was some talk last year among the commissioners, however informal, that we might consider separating from the Barry Eaton District Health Department, but that decision would have to be made within the health department; not at the commissioner’s level.”