HC budget to include new health specialist
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]
Carrie Herthel, administrator of the Harrison County Health Dept., was able to approach the county council during its budget meeting last Tuesday evening to further address the letter that was written to the council and signed by health officer Dr. Andrew Morton.
The letter described that the health department was understaffed, underpaid and overworked. Herthel shared that they are “at a critical point where the continuation of vital services is at risk.”
She explained that in the 2021 budget she requested the addition of two new positions, an environmental health specialist and a position in the public health nursing area, both of which were denied. She said that she put these requests in the budget for 2022 again. Zero full-time, salaried positions have been added to the health department since 2010, according to Herthel.
Herthel emphasized to the council that these two position requests were in no way related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and that the need for more employees would be occurring either way. She also shared that the department has seen a two-fold increase in environmental health needs just in septic alone.
In 2019, the department was called for 456 septic inspections, Herthel said.
Council president Donnie Hussung said he was hesitant to add a salaried position to the team as he was afraid the need for these two employees would dwindle in three to four years.
“As we increase in population size, which has been about 1% each year, we do see a lot of increases, not only in septics, but questions that relate to it,” Herthel responded. “The need will change and shift, but it will always be there. As population increases that will drive other environmental issues as well, which will require us.”
Later in the meeting, councilman Kyle Nix shared that he has worked alongside the health department’s environmental inspectors for the past 15 years and that they are “in the worst shape they have ever been,” and are “essentially drowning.” Because of that, he made a motion to fund an environmental specialist position for 2022, which passed 5-1, with Holli Castetter opposing and Jennie Capelle absent.
However, most council members believed the need for a public health nurse could wait or could be a contractual position.
Castetter made a motion to deny that position request, which passed 5-1, with Richard Gerdon opposing.
The council also unanimously approved a motion by Castetter to increase the health department’s part-time line by 7%.
Also at the meeting, after much discussion, the council unanimously agreed to adopt all fire department budgets as presented as they remain within the growth factor allowed by the state.
However, much discussion regarding the fire departments was centered around the need to create a countywide fire department plan, something numerous county members shared that they believe in as does Jon Saulman, chief of the Harrison Township Fire Dept.
Saulman had sent a letter to the council expressing his desire to raise the fees that Harrison Township residents pay in order to fund the extra amounts they spend helping other departments in the county with fire calls.
Each of the councilmembers expressed their belief that they shouldn’t require one township’s residents to fund countywide services, which is what sparked the conversation of a countywide fire department plan.
However, this type of decision and restructuring process must be made by the Harrison County Board of Commissioners.
Castetter urged the fire districts to approach them and review this idea in hopes that this is the direction the county could begin to make steps toward.
Hussung shared that this would make the distribution of riverboat funds to the fire districts a simpler process, and Nix added this could help in potentially funding a training facility for the departments.
Commissioner Nelson Stepro was in attendance at the meeting and noted that he would begin research on this initiative.