FOREST CITY | Winnebago County Public Health may be forced to reduce its services in the coming months due to a funding shortfall.

The shortfall is the result of the county board reducing the public health department’s $243,389 funding request to $50,000 — a $193,000 reduction — earlier this year without notifying them, said Ruth Merchant, Winnebago County Public Health administrator.

“That will never carry us for a year. No way,” she said.

Merchant and Julie Sorenson, Public Health financial manager, spoke with the supervisors Tuesday, Oct. 10, during their weekly meeting about the item when the department’s July request to transfer funds from the county’s general fund to public health wasn’t answered after the fall tax collection.

County Auditor Karla Weiss said the county board made the decision to reduce the public health department’s request during the budgeting process for the 2017-2018 fiscal year in March.

Merchant said public health, which is governed by the Board of Health, requested the transfer to “complete jobs it needs to do” at a time when the cost of care is increasing and Medicaid, Medicare and state revenues are declining.

“In the past we’ve had a surplus,” she said. “We no longer have any surplus to go back on, so we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to quit seeing patients or what we’re going to do. Are we not going to take care of our people in our county?”

The department, which provides public health and home-care services throughout the county, currently has a fund balance of $58,184 — excluding the $50,000 transfer request — with nine months remaining in the fiscal year.

“We’re just going to be nip and tuck trying to manage our budget,” Merchant said. “I don’t know that we can.”

Because of the reduction, the department is trying to determine how — and if — it will meet payroll and provide care to its 117 clients as well as conducting 430 skilled-nursing visits per month, 760 home-care visits per month and other services.

Merchant said the Board of Health “tried to be realistic” in managing the department’s budget before making the request to the county to continue providing services.

When Supervisor Mike Strensrud asked how much the department would need to continue its operations, Merchant suggested if not the initial request, then $100,000.

But Weiss said the county doesn’t have any money to give.

“We just got enough taxes in that we can give them $50,000, but we don’t have just a bunch of extra money laying around to give to them either,” she said, noting the county’s current fund balance is about $628,000.

Merchant said she and the Board of Health will have to decide in the coming weeks what can be done to care for the residents of Winnebago County. The supervisors agreed to continue the discussion during its next budget process.

“It makes it hard when we don’t know if we have enough money to take care of the people we need to,” she said.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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