The Sedgwick County Commissioners have approved the county’s 2017 operating budget. The commissioners restored a county health department position that was cut last year.
Commissioners Tim Norton, Dave Unruh and Jim Howell voted in favor of bringing back the health department position so the county could resume an active role in the community health assessment process. The process includes a community survey that helps identify the major health issues or priorities in the county, such as obesity or children in poverty, and the development of a Community Health Improvement Plan with strategies to help tackle those health priorities.
Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau voted against the measure, saying the program leads to unnecessary government over-reach.
"Doing this program, and spending all this time, money and effort, when you look at all the other stuff we have to do, is not best for our community," Ranzau said. "Spend that $50,000 on anything else in our budget and our community would be better off."
A group of community health partners--including Via Christi, the United Way of the Plains, Wichita State University, KU School of Medicine-Wichita and the Health Alliance--is in the process of finalizing a new Community Health Improvement Plan. A rollout is expected in early September.
Unruh and Howell characterized the debate as more of a philosophical issue rather than a budgetary one.
Norton said getting the health department back to work with community partners is the right thing to do.
"I don’t think it's particularly tied to government overreach. I mean, it’s the United Way [of the Plains], Via Christi and our own health department and our own community trying to figure out what is best for our community," he said.
Chairman Howell says he changed his opinion about the community health assessment process following his two-day visit to the Tulsa Health Department in May as part of the Public Health Sister City Program. Howell was among a group of Wichita-area health leaders and elected officials who participated in the site visit.
The health department position offers a roughly $48,000 annual salary. County Chief Financial Officer Chris Chronis says the position will be added to the 2017 budget with funding to come from the county’s operating reserves.
The 2017 budget totals $424,156,742. County government will receive $406,091,993, and Fire District 1 receives $18,064,749.
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