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County health department proposes large increase in tax asking

By Holly Hudson, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 28--WATERLOO -- The Black Hawk County Board of Health on Wednesday approved the Health Department's proposed FY2015 budget request, which includes a 19.1 percent increase in property tax asking -- an additional $330,500.

"I have been on the board a long time," Dr. Robert Friedman said. "I've never seen a 19 percent increase in tax asking."

Director Bruce Meisinger said it also is the highest percent increase he remembers. Last year, the board authorized a 5.5 percent increase in property tax asking.

"It's high, and the way I asked the board to authorize me to submit it to the Board of Supervisors, is as a starting point," he said.

Meisinger detailed several cost increases and revenue reductions that contributed to the increase:

-- Scheduled 2.25 percent union contract wage increase, $73,040.

-- 20 percent health insurance rate increase, $64,616.

-- Affordable Care Act health insurance eligibility compliance, $30,390.

-- New home care aid position, $24,794.

-- Proposed clerk/typist, $21,743.

-- Proposed vehicle capital request, $25,000.

-- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding for lead program ending, $24,158.

-- Avon Grant funding ending, $26,589.

-- Reductions/loss of other grants, $40,203.

The proposed budget totals $5,983,809 compared to last year's $5,706,967, a 4.85 percent increase.

Expected revenue for fiscal year 2015 is $3,923,250 compared to $3,976,941 in FY2014, a 1.35 percent decrease.

In FY2014, $1,730,026 was needed from property taxes to cover the department's costs. A total of $2,060,559 is being requested for FY2015.

There are No Baby Steps in Sales.

The budget request must be submitted to the Board of Supervisors by Dec. 5.

"So when they come back saying no, what's the plan?" Friedman asked.

"We need to remain aggressive in seeking grants and funding options and become less dependent on property taxes," Meisinger said. "... I don't have any delusions that we will be able to get everything we are asking for but, historically, the Board of Supervisors has covered the costs driven by contracts and benefits.

"I suspect the Board of Supervisors will require a series of budget cuts and we, as a board, will have to ask ourselves 'What are our priorities?', 'Where do we want to assign or allocate our limited resources?'"

Two programs likely to be significantly impacted by probable cuts are the Childhood Lead Poison Prevention Program and the Refugee Health Services Program.

"There are a high number of homes, in Waterloo in particular, where they used ... lead-based paint," Meisinger said. "When the homes deteriorate, an environmental hazard is exposed."

Children come in contact with or ingest the paint dust or paint chips, have elevated blood-lead levels and are at risk for learning disabilities or cognitive delays, Meisinger said.

"This program identifies children through screenings, and those children undergo treatment to address those elevated levels," he said. "It also identifies homes that present elevated lead exposure ... and mitigates the hazard."

For the last few years, the Health Department has been the lead agency in Black Hawk County to coordinate the health and medical needs, and much more, of Burmese refugees who have arrived in the area since 2010.

"Currently, we estimate there are 1,200 Burmese refugees who have settled here," Meisinger said. "There is no refugee resettlement agency in this community addressing the needs of the Burmese. We took on that role."

Initially, the Health Department conducts communicable disease and TB screenings for incoming refugees.

"Invariably, when you do a screening, you find a host of other issues that need to be addressed. Some of these people have been living in refugee camps ... for 10 or 20 years."

Meisinger said the Burmese population, which suffers from low literacy and language skills, needs a great deal of assistance with housing, food, employment and communication.

"There is no one entity providing those services long term," he said.

The board's next meeting is scheduled for 7:30 a.m.Dec. 18 in Room 420 at the Pinecrest Building, 1407 Independence Ave., in Waterloo.

There are No Baby Steps in Sales.

The Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors has final approval of the entire county budget.

Frank Magsamen, chairman of the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors, said he had not seen the request but that the board would address it in its own budget deliberations.

Supervisor John Miller, who attended the health board meeting, indicated he was confident the final numbers would be reduced.

County Finance Director James Bronner, who works with the Board of Supervisors, said the request is "a very raw number" and a first draft.

"As with other departments, we try to look at it as a countywide budget," Bronner said. "It's hard to look at a first draft of one department and say yes or no."

He did say that negotiated union pay increases are fixed costs, across all departments.

___

(c)2013 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at www.wcfcourier.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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