Commission opts to close local Health Dept. office
| September 15, 2011 1:00 PM
Lincoln County Commissioners, facing
dwindling returns on investments, have approved a $34.791 million
budget for fiscal year 2011-’12 that is $2.05 million less than the
year before that, among other cuts, closes the Libby Health
And, like the namesake for the county —
the 6-foot 4-inch 16th American president, Abraham Lincoln — the
county budget already was long and lean.
The decision to close the local Health
Department office, located at 418 Main St., is not an easy
decision, Commissioners say. However, the trio of county leaders
say there is sufficient health-care coverage in Libby that will
allow the belt-tightening.
“Resources are available that we
believe this decision can be made without having a huge impact on
our residents,” said Libby Commissoner Tony Berget, speaking for
the entire board.
Added Presiding Commissioner Marianne
Roose: “(We believe) this will change only the way people receive
health care, not the quality.”
Roose specifically mentioned Northwest
Community Health Center and St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, adding
that the hospital recently has added a sliding fee schedule to
accompany residents’ income.
The decision to close the Libby Health
Department office comes on the heels of the announcement by
registered County Nurse Karol Spas that she will retire on Nov. 11.
Spas, who has worked at the Health Department for 30 years,
announced her retirement about a month ago during a Commission
meeting. At the time, Spas pleaded with Commissioners to not let
her departure cast a death pall on the local office.
“This office needs to remain open,”
Spas said at the time. “There is so much we do here, like reporting
state-mandated communicable diseases, as well as serving the
Asked for comment about the
Commission’s decision to close the Libby office, Spas declined.
The Libby Health Department will remain
open until Dec. 31, at which time the office will shut its doors.
After Spa’s departure, the duties of head county nurse will fall
upon Mickey Carney, RN, who currently leads the office in
The reason for the $2.055 reduction is
the county’s budget is directly resulted from the decline in
investment revenue. Last year, the county’s reserves in its Road
Fund portfolio totaled $23.753 million. In the budget Commissioners
approved Wednesday, the projected revenue in the Road Fund was
$1.837 million less, or $21.915 million.
“We just can’t dip into our cash
reserves any more than we have,” Troy Commissioner Ron Downey
Roose, the Presiding Commissioner, said
the downward investment trend is something the board has been
dealing with for years.
“This is something that is not unique
to (Lincoln County),” Roose said. “It’s happening all over the
country. This is not an easy decision.”
That sentiment was echoed by Lincoln
County Clerk and Recorder Tammy Lauer.
“Oh, this is the most difficult budget
we’ve ever had, at least since I’ve been here,” said Lauer, who has
been clerk for five years.
Commissioners approved the budget
during their lengthy Sept. 7 meeting, which was a week late.
Montana state guidelines require budgets be completed by a Sept. 1
Despite the tighter budget, eight of
the county’s 19 categorical funds have seen increases in allocated
revenues for 20110-’12. Those funds seeing additional revenue
include Libby Park, Troy Park, Ambulance, Senior Citizens, Senior
Citizens Transportation, Public Safety, Search and Rescue and the
The fund seeing the largest revenue
increase is the Ambulance Fund, going up $125,817 or 47 percent
from $264,582 to $390,399. The Eureka Park Fund also went up 47
percent, seeing an increase in $15,114 up from $32,109 to $47,223.
Another big winner is the Senior Citizens Fund, up $9,672 or 21
percent from $45,761 to $55,433. Other percentages and those funds
include Libby Park, 5 percent; Troy Park, 11 percent; Senior
Citizens Transportation, 10.9 percent; Public Safety, 1.4 percent;
Search and Rescue, 10.7 percent, and the Insurance Fund, 3
The big loser was the County Board of
Health Fund, which with the impending closure of the Libby office,
saw a 49 percent decrease in funding from $205,912 to $103,890. As
Commissioners pointed out, some of the revenue was obtained through
Another big loser in the budget
allocation, was the Noxious Weeds Fund, which will lose one
employee, which will see a 30 percent decrease in funding, going
from $94,467 to $65,204.
Other funds seeing a decrease in
revenues include the General Fund, 4 percent; the Fair, 6 percent;
the Airport, 37 percent; District Court, 3 percent; Libby Park
Arena, 31 percent; Library, 4 percent; Planning, 13 percent, and
Extension Service, 5 percent.
Last year, the levy was 133.28 mills.
For 2011-’12, the levy is 137.33.
The budget was approved, 2-1, with
Commissioners Berget and Downey approving tally. Commissioner Roose
voted against the budget, specifically citing she was against the
decrease in revenue to the Fair Fund.
“It’s not right,” Roose said. “We were
going to restore that, and we didn’t.”