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It came down to that the only thing left to cut was programs and people.

In face of budget cuts, county health departments must make tough choices

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Cuts in federal and state aid and a potential 2% property tax cap mean North Country County public health departments are facing some tough choices. What those choices are likely to be is just now starting to come out as the departments are beginning to formulate their budgets for next year.

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Nora Flaherty
Digital Editor, News

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St. Lawrence County asked public health director Sue Hathaway how her department could cut about $250,000 from its budget—that’s about 2% of the department’s budget, and the amount it’s facing in cuts for next year.

Hathaway recommended ending a children’s dental sealant program at the end of the school year; and gradually phasing out programs that give braces to kids with physical disabilities and provide prenatal care to low-income mothers.

Salaries and benefits make up the biggest part of the department’s 13 million dollar budget—Hathaway also recommended it absorb two retirements and two resignations, and lay off a dental hygienist.

Certainly there were a lot of cuts this year from last year already, so it came down to that the only thing left to cut was programs and people.

Hathaway was the first to make specific public recommendations for cutting costs—but county health departments across the state are in a similar situation.

State aid for what are called “optional programs” has been cut by 36%; Medicaid reimbursements are down 2% across the board; and, for counties already struggling to provide mandated programs, there’s little hope of increased revenue from property or sales taxes:

Looks like we’re going to be looking at a 2% property tax cap, the county has a 7% sales tax that can’t be raised. There’s been no mandate relief—nothing has been taken away other than money.

Other counties in the North Country are looking at making service cuts, too—in many cases, to home health care programs, which can be expensive and are considered optional.

Mandated services for county public health departments include early intervention, immunization, lead screening, and testing and treatment for HIV, other STDs, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

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