ARHS OKs $22.5M budget
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, April 26, 2018
The Board of Health that governs Albemarle Regional Health Services approved the agency’s annual budget Tuesday night, proposing to spend $22.5 million on health, sanitation and transportation services next fiscal year.
The budget also calls for counties to pay more into the health department, making up for the eventual loss of revenue from home health agencies the department sold off two years ago.
ARHS Director Battle Betts and Finance Officer Ginger Midgett presented the budget to the regional health department's board on Tuesday night. The 2018-19 budget is about $200,000 more than this year's budget, reflecting almost $400,000 more for vehicle purchases for the Inter-County Public Transit Authority but less spending for various health programs, in part due to a drop in state and federal funding.
The budget also includes a 2.5-percent raise for employees and increased costs for employees' benefits, including a 5-percent health insurance increase in January.
The spending plan also allows ARHS to spend up to $1.72 million in fund balance, about the same as the current year. Betts said after the meeting that ARHS projects using far more fund balance than it uses, reflecting conservative revenue and expense estimates.
Midgett also told board members Tuesday that ARHS ended last fiscal year with about $8.8 million in fund balance. Fund balance is important because, without money in reserve for large or unexpected costs, ARHS might have to ask counties for more funding or cut services.
The budget also asks ARHS' seven counties to pay the department more for the next 15 years, reflecting 2.5-percent increases each year. Betts explained the increases are meant to gradually compensate for ARHS' loss of revenues from the sale of its home health and hospice agencies in 2015. ARHS has planned to spend up to $300,000 a year of the proceeds to cover the cost of services, he explained.
In real dollars, the increase will cost counties about $16,000 more, raising their total contributions to about $656,000. As ARHS' most populous county, Pasquotank pays the most of any single county. Its cost for ARHS next year will be about $161,000. Currituck, which is the second-most populous county, will see its cost rise to about $130,000.
Betts said after the meeting that ARHS has held meetings with county officials about the increases and gotten their support. The small increases will protect the counties from potentially having to cover a large shortfall when the sale proceeds are exhausted.
In another highlight of the budget, the ICPTA is planning to spend $776,000 to replace vehicles. Betts said the ICPTA, which provides public transportation across five counties, has set funding aside for a “catch-up” year to replace more vehicles than normal.
After brief discussion, board members approved the budget unanimously. Board member William Meiggs raised concerns about ARHS' loss of grants, noting some support key health services.
“Really, it's a sign of the times we're living in right now,” Betts responded. “A lot of these initiatives are being funded on a two- to three-year cycle. … It keeps them from having to commit to a longer time frame.”
That led Meiggs to comment, “Seems to be funding is available for the catastrophe of the day.”
Betts agreed, also describing ARHS' funding as in silos that complicate coordinating related programs, such as family planning and women, infants and children.
ARHS' budget shows its single largest health programs are for child health, at $2.48 million, and children's developmental services, at $2.38 million. It also expects to spend $3.5 million operating the Perquimans-Chowan-Gates Landfill, about $70,000 more than it budgeted for the current year.
ARHS' budget also comes with a caveat: ARHS member counties have approved adding Hertford County as a member on July 1, which will require the county dissolve its public health authority and contribute to the department based on its population.