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Commission opts to close local Health Dept. office

by The Western News
| 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

Department office.

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

public.”

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

Eureka.

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

said.

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

deadline.

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

Insurance Fund.

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

percent.

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

grants.

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.”