Health office set to spend

For the Bartholomew County Health Department, it was a use-it-or-lose-it deal.

So the department’s nursing and environmental divisions came up with a shopping list for the $172,175 that had to be spent or given back to the state to be reallocated to other Indiana counties.

Since it wasn’t county tax dollars being spent, county council members unanimously gave their blessing to the department’s list of proposed purchases.

So how did health department officials get so much money burning a hole in their pocket?

Through the years, the department’s nursing and environmental divisions have been allowed to save money left over from the four annual state grants used for such things as immunizations and preparedness, according to director Collis Mayfield.

Public health threats ranging from outbreaks of encephalitis to the massive floods of 2008 have taught him it’s a good idea to have quickly accessible cash set aside for unexpected emergencies, Mayfield said.

While these so-called “carry-over funds” are usually between $2,000 to $5,000 annually, he said deposits have been going into two interest-bearing accounts for quite some time.

An account for health maintenance had accumulated $98,825 since 1988, while a separate trust fund had accrued a total of $75,350 over the past 15 years, according to assistant director Link Fulp.

But in February, a state-level legislative change meant the department either had to earmark those savings for specific expenditures or give it back to be reallocated to other counties, Fulp said.

The list of items approved for purchase by the health department includes:

Two trucks and two cars to replace current vehicles with more than 100,000 miles.

New software to handle vital records and environmental programs.

Acquiring the services of a part-time environmental specialist to handle seasonal duties such as swimming pool inspections and mosquitoes testing.

The purchase of miscellaneous equipment and supplies.

However, the health department also is setting aside up to $30,000 for emergencies, the maximum allowed by state regulators, Mayfield said.

Since regulations only allow the money to be spent for specific purposes, the department was unable to follow the council’s suggestion that those funds be spent for billing purposes, he said.

“However, I think the council feels good about this arrangement,” Mayfield said. “They understand the things we are getting now are things we won’t be asking them to pay for next year.”

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.