Let me state that there are two distinct issues at play, which she has combined to one.
The first is our budget. Councilman and acting President of Council John Haas is correct, in my mind, at questioning any spending by the City. We are fast becoming broke and it is, in my mind, doubtful that the income tax increase on the May ballot will pass. Should this income tax proposal be defeated, we are in deep trouble. Thus, any questioning of budgets and means to cut our expenditures is appropriate.
That being said, I would not care to cut the Health Department budget and its needed services unless all other departments, especially our largest, are cut equivalently. That won't happen, unfortunately. Our labor contracts limit our management abilities. Though I do not support SB/HB 5, due to it being massive overkill, its passage would certainly change our budget equation.
The second is the issue of consolidation. Let's be frank. Absolutely no governmental entity in Scioto County wants to consider consolidation, for political and control purposes, in my estimation. As we heard during our budget discussions, neither the County nor New Boston will even discuss consolidating emergency dispatch services, although it makes absolutely good sense in a county of but some 70,000 people to do so.
Additionally, none of our 10 school districts (with but 12,554 students total; an average of 1,255 each) or the 16 townships (with a population, in 2000, of 55,946, averaging 3,497) will consider consolidation. It is a matter of politics and control; each school district and township with their own elected officials (and costs associated thereto), various executive staffing and each with its own hand in the property tax cookie jar. The same holds true, I believe, for our health departments with their independent boards and bureaucracies.
As much as I support (and have applauded) the efforts and services of our Health Department, I am concerned that anyone from our Health Department would state that these services could not be provided by a combined department; such, in my mind, being strictly a political statement and simply reflecting the attitudes of those who wield control of our local health systems. There are county health departments that do indeed provide such services you note in your letters. And any negotiation regarding consolidation could certainly include the services of all three health departments. (I include the TB Clinic due to its property tax assessment of 0.5 mills.)
The Portsmouth Daily Times recently interviewed Fire Chief Bill Raison. Though I have disagreement on one particular point (the Charter provisions), I applaud his statement concerning risk analysis. We, the City and its taxpayers, have to determine what and how much we can afford. Can we continue to afford a state-of-the-art and Charter-required staffing for our fire and police departments as well as the demands of various other important departments? Can we afford to continue the status quo given the tremendously increased costs but static and in some cases declining income? And, finally, can we afford to continue as we have in the past — that is, collecting property and income taxes to maintain the innumerable numbers of independent government entities that should, by all logic and reason, be combined or consolidated in order to lower the real unit cost of providing services while maintaining and possibly increasing the quality of such services?
I have lived, in a combined city/county (San Francisco) and in Contra Costa County — one of the largest counties in California with some 1.064 million people. Both have combined health departments and provide far more services than are available anywhere in Scioto County; at a cost, certainly, but one that they, taxpayers and governments, by a continuing risk-analysis determined is needed and wanted.
Consolidation can and should be done; and not only for our health departments.
City of Portsmouth First Ward Councilman