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New developments in Ottawa Co. budget battle

Adeline Hambley suggested some programs could be eliminated entirely, affecting the county's most vulnerable. The issue prompted protests earlier this month.

OTTAWA COUNTY, Mich. — Ahead of Tuesday’s planned work session, embattled County Health Officer Adeline Hambley spoke to 13 ON YOUR SIDE regarding recent progress in the department’s ongoing budget battle.

Hambley and the county board--at odds since her attempted ouster earlier this year – are sparring over significant proposed cuts to the health budget. If left in place, Hambley said the austerity measures could hold consequences for the county’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom, she said, depend upon the services offered under current spending levels.  

The cuts, Hambley said, could mean some programs would be eliminated entirely. The debate prompted demonstrations in early September and dozens of submissions during a marathon September 12 public hearing.

The latest incarnation of the proposed FY 2024 budget, she related, did reflect at least some positive progress.

The document to which she referred appeared to show the department’s family planning programming had been restored, though, Hambley said, it would likely mean a slight boost in terms of expenditures from the county’s general fund.

Its communicable disease programming, STD prevention and treatment efforts and immunization funding appeared to have been restored as well. Though those services would no longer draw funding from the general fund, but a pool of state grant dollars. A source Hambley found problematic:

“I'm glad that we can maintain our minimum service requirements,” she began. “The increase from the state was not intended to make up for… local funding cuts, it was supposed to allow us to maybe function a little bit more than at the minimum level. Start inching toward optimal program levels… unfortunately that's not how it’s going to work for us.”

Hambley suggested county commissioners had repeatedly decried her efforts to generate awareness with regard to the likely effects of the proposed cuts as ‘fearmongering.’

She also took issue with the commission’s assertion the reductions would bring the Health Department in line with pre-pandemic spending levels:

“I think that's really important to get out there,” Hambley noted. “I know that that's the narrative that they're just returning it to pre COVID spending levels, but if we're losing staff and programming that existed pre COVID, then that's not maintaining pre COVID levels.”

“It’s a challenge when it’s a moving target.”

A staff epidemiologist position also appeared to have been eliminated in the latest revisions to the proposed budget.

Various cuts to the department’s health education programming, Hambley said, also appear to have been kept in place in advance of Tuesday’s finance meeting. Those included a number of services she indicated were mandated.

Hambley said she was still hopeful the commission would reconsider.

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