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Surplus brings end to health department furloughs

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Director says agency running in black despite gloomy forecast

By Ben Carlson

With its financial results better than expected nearly halfway through the fiscal year, the Anderson County Board of Health voted 7-2 Thursday to end employee furloughs — but only through March 2014.
The decision marks the end of employees losing payroll hours each week for the past year and a half as the health department worked to overcome financial shortfalls brought on by a combination of issues, including the decision several years ago to construct a new building.
Health Director Tim Wright said employees were happy to hear that they no longer will lose 1 1/2 hours of pay each week.
“They are very excited,” said Wright. “For the next six months they actually get to work 75 hour pay periods. This is going to put a little more money in their pockets and help them with their retirement.”
Furloughs were trimmed from three hours a week to 1 1/2 this spring despite a budget that painted a gloomy financial picture and the board of health’s decision to not raise property taxes despite a proposal to do so from Wright that was supported by current health board chairman Steve Carmichael.
Wright said through the end of November, though, the department is about $53,500 over its anticipated budget, thanks in part to lower than expected expenses and slight growth in treating self-pay patients and increased Medicaid revenue.
With the fiscal year — which runs from July 1 through June 30 — about 42 percent completed, Wright said the department has collected about 43 percent of its budgeted revenue and spent only 38 percent of its budgeted expenses.
He said a long-term projection shows that the department will end the current year about $120,000 over its expected budget.
Another factor, he said, is that the department is leasing space to Women’s Health of the Bluegrass, which has paid about $1,200 so far in rent.
The furloughs were saving the department about $60,000 each year, Wright said, and the vote to end them will be reviewed when the health board meets again in March.
Board members Dr. Mark Tussey and former chairman Harold Todd voted against ending the furloughs. Both, Wright said, wanted to end the furloughs but objected over the decision not to keep the department open on Friday afternoons.
Tussey said the department serves a variety of purposes and should be open during normal business hours.
“Since things have improved fiscally, I wholeheartedly supported bring the furloughs to an end,” he said. “But I thought it should be tied to bringing the hours back up to normal government or business practices. That was my consternation and disagreement.”
Tussey said there was plenty of discussion during the meeting about public perception of the department, which has drawn countywide scrutiny in recent years over its new building and the financial damage it caused when the health board nearly went supporting its debt.
“I think that given the history of abuse of the public trust in the past, it’s important that citizens and taxpayers know the health department is there, ready to serve them. I think being open normal business hours is part of that.”
The department is open Monday through Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon.
Voting for the measure to end furloughs was Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway along with board members Lisa Hughes, Keith Klink, Dr. Andrew Bustin, Dr. Jaime Cooper, Dr. Aaron Goodpastor and Carmichael.
 

Members pleased with decision to keep tax rate flat
News that the health department is on track to finish its current fiscal year $120,000 ahead of its projected budget was welcome to at least two board members who fought an effort earlier in the year to raise the agency’s property tax rate.
“I’m very proud of the firm stance I took against raising taxes,” said Dr. Mark Tussey. “I made a comment during that meeting that I’d auction off the big screen TVs and furniture before raising taxes and I meant it.”
During his budget presentation in May, Director Tim Wright told board members that the agency’s reserves would shrink to $105,000 if additional tax revenue wasn’t brought in. He offered data that included raising taxes from 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to 40 cents, which drew no support from the board.
Chairman Steve Carmichael lobbied for a 5 cent increase, saying the difference to property owners would amount to a “Coke at McDonald’s once a week.”
Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway questioned Wright’s projection, though, and cautioned that the fiscal court would likely reject any effort to raise the rate.
On Monday, he credited the job Wright has done in getting the department on a sound financial track, saying he feels good about his stance on not raising property tax rates.
“I think most of the board feels the same way,” Conway said. “I think everybody on the board sees the job Tim is doing and has faith in him to do it.
“I did a lot of lobbying to get him appointed to that job, and I’m glad I did.”
Tussey said it has taken time for the department to learn to live within its means.
“Everything has to learn to operate in an economically responsible manner,” he said. “That’s the answer to a lot of the excessive government spending.
“The director encouraged a budget that did raise taxes, and I’m glad we did not. I’m pleased with the end result and that the numbers are in the black.”
—by Ben Carlson