To ease budget cuts, Franklin County Health Department employees will have to take 12 furlough days next year, director Paula Alexander announced Friday.
“Yes, that is considerable,” Alexander said after the news was met with a collective gasp at Friday’s Fiscal Court meeting.
“That is little over a paycheck.”
Alexander called a special meeting of the Franklin County Board of Health, which unanimously voted Friday morning to work the furloughs into the 2012-2013 budget.
Typically, the board has a budget prepared by May, but it wasn’t until last week when it received allocations from the state. Those state funds are about 20 percent less than what the department received for the 2011-2012 budget, and the decrease in funds left the board scrambling to fix its $500,000 projected deficit for next year.
The furloughs should help to cut that deficit by about half, with cuts and other measures shaving an additional $100,000, Alexander said. Depending on how the department fares throughout the year, the number of furloughs could also be cut.
"We do have (the) option of decreasing planned furlough days, if after several months we are trending better than expected," Alexander said in a statement to The State Journal.
This is the first time FCHD has had to furlough employees, but with the millions of dollars in cuts to state agencies, Alexander said she expected there’d be hard times for the health department, which she says receives about 20 percent of its funding from the state.
In his previous budget, Gov. Steve Beshear ordered state employees to take six furlough days, and in his most recent budget, he announced $286 million in cuts to state agencies. A few weeks ago, the Judicial Branch voted to furlough its employees for three days.
“We’ve been trying to avoid it for a long time,” Alexander said. “We had a special Board of Health meeting back in April to make them aware it’s not looking good.”
“It’s furloughs versus mass layoffs – you can share the pain across the board, or …” she trailed off.
Details on when the furlough days can be taken are still being worked out, but Alexander said she’d like to spread it out with one furlough day per month.
“We’re looking at days like pay(day) Fridays to take some of the sting off,” Alexander said.
To further reduce the deficit, the board voted to lay off one part-time employee and change two full-time positions to part time, but Alexander hasn’t announced which positions will be affected. Contractors’ hours will also be shortened.
Alexander says she’s unsure if the furloughs will lead to resignations among staff. She told Fiscal Court she hopes it won’t, and mentioned one employee told her Friday morning “everything will be OK.”
“These people have been wonderful about stepping up to the plate and they’ll continue to do so,” Alexander said. “So say ‘thank you’ to a public health member in this community because they are doing everything that they can.”
The furloughs and budget deficit come at a time when service numbers are at a “record high,” Alexander said. The number of appointments at the clinic has increased every year over the past three years, and FCHD recently added more school nurses – who will also have to take furloughs.
“With this board’s blessing, we’ve been swimming upstream to meet the community health needs,” Alexander said.
Although Fiscal Court recently approved $500 raises to its employees, those won’t apply to the health department, since FCHD is its own separate entity.
The department receives funding from federal, state and local tax revenue, including a 4 percent public health tax from county residents. Magistrate Jill Robinson asked Alexander to consider raising the tax, saying “not a word” was heard from her constituents after the county first passed the tax rate in 2000.
“I was heartened – it brought tears to my eyes, but I think this is a hard year to ask people to cough up more tax money,” Alexander said. “We may have to look again at this next year
Even with the furloughs and budget cuts, the quality of service won’t change, Alexander said.
“We will still answer the public health expectations in Frankfort and Franklin County,” Alexander said.
The board will continue to work on the budget until its meeting July 16, when it will be voted on and sent to the state Department for Public Health for approval.