Budget impasse hits health department

The Will County Board said it received grim financial news at its latest executive committee meeting from the county’s health department.  According to a news release from the board, the state of Illinois’ budget impasse has created a $2.3 million revenue shortfall for the department that will impact numerous vital health programs.

“The state’s financial problems trickle down to the local level and every day it’s getting worse,” Speaker Jim Moustis said. “As a result, we have some very difficult decisions to make about how to fund services and programs that are necessary and, in some cases, mandated by the state.”

One-third of the health department’s budget is funded through grants, and 10 percent of those come from the state. For example, Illinois’ Local Health Protection Grant provides more than $400,000 in revenue, but Will County has yet to see any money in the current fiscal year. This grant funds core, mandated programs, and the health department would lose its certification if those were no longer provided to residents.

“Will County’s Health Department provides important and needed services including immunizations, vision and hearing screening for school-age children, well water testing, and food and sanitary inspections to name just a few,” said board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, chair of the public health and safety committee. “The department is doing everything possible to continue operations while the state remains delinquent in the payment of its grants, but we are clearly reaching a tipping point and call on state lawmakers to find a solution as soon as possible.”

Officials from the health department have implemented a partial hiring freeze, cut expenses, cut staff training and limited overtime to deal with the funding shortfall, but they are now looking at raising user fees and reducing or eliminating some programs just to survive. Currently, they are operating without several sanitarian employees because of the funding restraints. Eighty-five percent of the department’s budget goes toward personnel.

“The state’s budget problems are causing dysfunction in our communities, and this is a prime example,” said Democratic caucus leader Herb Brooks Jr., D-Joliet. “Illinois is not paying, and we need to find ways to keep our budget balanced before the situation gets even worse.”

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