JOLIET – Financial struggles continue for the Will County Health Department, but changes might be on the way.
Executive Director Sue Olenek has informed the Will County Board’s Public Health and Safety Committee that her department is expected to see a deficit of more than $700,000 in the upcoming county budget as things stand. The department recently submitted its portion of the proposed budget to the county finance director. It included the projected deficit.
“It was submitted [with a deficit] because of my wanting to wait to find out if there would be some additional help from the county in terms of reducing some of our expenses or increasing some of our revenues,” Olenek said.
The Will County Board of Health in June adopted a resolution requesting the county increase the health department’s levy in order to sustain services at current levels, while also requesting a centralization of some services, such as security, snow-plowing, grass-cutting and facility cleaning, which the health department pays for out of its budget.
“Not every county department pays for those services out of their budget. We do – to the tune of almost $700,000,” Olenek said, indicating a change to that process could remedy much of the deficit.
The health department is looking at potential tweaks it could make with county board approval, such as increasing fees for certain things. Food fees have not been increased since 2014 and are due for a jump, Olenek said.
“Certainly we are in the process of doing that,” she said, adding that the department is well below the average food fee price charged by other counties.
The environmental health division of the health department is transitioning to the FDA code for inspections of restaurants, which will likely coincide with a fee change.
“We’re going to change the food ordinance to address both of those things – the fees and the FDA code,” Olenek said. “We will be able to increase our fees pretty well. It’s been awhile.”
A public hearing on an increase of fees, which could bring in $200,000, could happen in October.
Olenek said the department again went into its cash reserves to lower the deficit to about $700,000. The gap has been between $800,000 and $1 million for several years.
The department laid off about 100 people over the past six or seven years.
“We have all public health programs left – except two, one is our community health center and one is behavioral health,” Olenek said. “Those two are not typical public health programs.”
She warned of further cuts.
“I’m not saying those are not necessary. They are. But there’s a point as a public health agency where I have to look at core public health,” Olenek said. “That’s why I’m trying to do whatever I can do to sustain our programs, but I don’t know how long we can do that.”