Beginning Nov. 26, the Salem City Health Department will reduce its hours of operation and open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, closing for lunch from 1 to 1:30 p.m.
The city health board set the new hours during a special meeting Thursday, but held off on any action regarding new food service fees after questioning the accuracy of the number of hours devoted to the program.
The thinking was that the documented number of hours listed fell way short of the actual time spent on food service, which could affect the financial bottom line.
"I think it's just a matter of recordkeeping that needs addressed," Mayor John Berlin said.
Berlin serves as chairman of the health board and raised the issue while reviewing the cost methodology being used to calculate what should be charged locally for food service fees. The first reading for new fees was supposed to be done at the meeting, but the board held off until the numbers can be refigured.
When the city first regained its own health department a few years ago, the department used Columbiana County's fee structure, but last year, the state advised the city to do its own cost methodology. As a result of that methodology, the board ended up cutting the fees nearly in half, resulting in less income.
In trying to set the fees for next year, Health Commissioner Richard Setty prepared two cost methodology reports for the board. One method looked strictly at the sanitarian's salary and time spent on the program. The other method itemized the costs of running the program, including support costs and overhead, such as utility costs and rent.
The number on both reports that concerned board members was the number of hours listed that the sanitarian spent on the food program. According to the figures, out of all the hours worked for a year, the amount spent on food service only accounted for less than 20 percent of his time. Out of 750 plus hours worked (figured at 16 hours per week), the report listed 160 hours for food service. Setty figured a combined 139 hours for the five other programs which cover general nuisance complaints, swimming pools, tattoo establishments, schools and animal bites.
Board member Judy Sicilia said there's more than 450 hours unaccounted for and she couldn't believe they weren't spent in food service. According to Setty, some of the time was uncaptured and not tracked, such as some phone calls or time spent on paperwork. Berlin asked whether it was likely the other hours were spent in food service.
Board members had figures for the East Liverpool City Health Department for comparison purposes and learned their sanitarian also works 16 hours per week and has the same number of restaurants and food establishment to inspect (about 100), but was spending about 77 percent of their time in the food service program.
Pointing out that the board is trying to balance the budget and more than 450 hours can't be assessed to food service, Berlin asked whether they needed to be looking at reducing the sanitarian's hours to save money that way.
In dividing out the time for the year and the amount of time spent at each location, he said it averaged out to about 30 minutes per location for the minimum three inspections per year per location, which didn't seem correct.
Sicilia said the board knows the sanitarian is doing his job properly. Board member Newt McKnight said he's doing things he's not recording.
"There's just something wrong with the calculation," Berlin said.
Setty was asked to review the hours with the sanitarian and come back with another cost methodology for the next meeting, which is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 28.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org