The city is tackling a projected deficit in the Salem City Health Department budget by reducing the registrar position to part-time, increasing the cost of birth and death certificates by 50 cents and possibly tweaking hours of operation.
Mayor John Berlin, who also serves as chairman of the health board, outlined some of the plans during an interview Wednesday, noting it " became evident the amount of money to sustain the department to be self-funding was no longer possible."
According to a financial forecast prepared by city Auditor Betty Brothers and provided to the mayor, the health department budget will have a shortfall of $20,002 next year if operations remain the same.
If the registrar's position went to part-time, the department could save an estimated $14,856 a year, reducing the deficit to $5,145. With an estimated carryover of $7,651, the department could end 2013 in the black by $2,505.
In a phone interview, City Health Commissioner Richard Setty said the board had been looking at trying to stabilize the budget and there had been discussions on whether the registrar of vital statistics should be a full-time position or part-time.
Setty and the board learned through Brothers during last week's board meeting that longtime registrar Candice Pierson was retiring effective Oct. 31. The board then authorized the mayor to approach city council about changing the position to part-time.
City council voted Tuesday to establish the position as part-time. Pierson will remain full-time until her retirement. The health board will hold a special meeting at 10 a.m. Oct. 10 regarding the registrar position and hours of operation for the health department.
Both Setty and Berlin explained part of the plan next is for the proposed creation of a part-time deputy registrar, with the idea being that having two part-timers could provide better coverage for the office. Berlin said maybe one could work mornings and the other one work afternoons, providing some overlap at the lunch hour.
There would still be a savings since there would be no fringe benefits paid and the hours could be reduced in a way to still cover the demand for services. The office is currently open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but closed for lunch for an hour. Berlin said they could shorten the hours and be open at lunch time, but stressed that the board has not made any decision about the hours of operation.
Currently, the department's part-time nurse serves as deputy registrar when the registrar is out of the office. The city also had an agreement with the Columbiana County Health Department for a fill-in registrar if both the nurse and registrar were off, but Setty said that person is no longer available due to a retirement at the county level.
He said the office had to close a number of days due to not having a registrar available and the department had received complaints off and on. Money made through vital statistics makes up a large chunk of the budget.
"The intent here is to improve coverage," he said, adding they don't know what the demand is going to be on any given day.
The health board also increased the charge for a birth or death certificate from $26.50 to $27, which is the maximum the city can charge, according to Berlin. Now that people can secure birth certificates from anywhere in the state, the number of birth certificates has decreased a little since last year.
The city of Salem had its own health department for years, then disbanded it and started contracting with the county sometime in the early '90s for services. In June 2009, the city decided to go on its own again after then Auditor Jim Armeni questioned what the city was receiving for what it was paying.
Berlin said he was told it was presented to council that the health department would be self-sustaining and would not require money from the general fund. For the first two years of operation, the city was charging food establishments the same fees that the county had been charging, but learned through a cost methodology that the fees charged by the city should be less based on the cost of the sanitarian.
The board voted to reduce the fees, reducing the amount of money going into the health department budget. Unfortunately, that doesn't cover all of the sanitarian's salary since he also has other duties besides food service.
Berlin said the cost would be a lot greater for the food service operators under the county. He said service rendered by the local health department is far greater for the citizens of Salem when administered locally, noting that they can get innoculations for children at the Salem City Health Department instead of driving to the county, making services more convenient.
The next regular meeting of the health board is 10 a.m. Oct. 24.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org