OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County’s top health officer says her department would survive only a matter of weeks if commissioners go through with a proposal to slash its budget.

Administrative Health Officer Adeline Hambley on Thursday released a response to a request from Ottawa County Administrator John Gibbs to present a budget limited to $2.5 million in general fund dollars. She was instructed to prepare an outline of spending under that limit by Thursday.

“Every public health program will be at risk under the unreasonable general fund budget allocation requested by Administrator Gibbs on behalf of the Board of Commissioners,” Hambley wrote in the document (PDF).

She described the limitation as “significant and retaliatory,” referencing her lawsuit against county commissioners backed by conservative political action committee Ottawa Impact for trying to oust her.

She also argued Commission Chair Joe Moss — who formed Ottawa Impact after the health department shut down his kids’ school over COVID-era mask mandates — was trying to “achieve political victory over COVID-19 at the expense of Ottawa County citizens.”

Hambley presented a spreadsheet indicating that between 2009 and 2020, the health department received no less than about $3.4 million from the general fund. For the 2020 fiscal year, implemented before the pandemic started, it got about $3.7 million. About $1.1 million went to administrative costs, bringing the amount sent directly to public health services for that fiscal year to about $2.6 million.

(Courtesy Ottawa County Department of Public Health)
(Courtesy Ottawa County Department of Public Health)

In the document, Hambley argued that if bound to a $2.5 million budget in the upcoming fiscal year, there would be two likely outcomes:

First, if the department maintained only essential services and mandated public health administration, it would close in four weeks. That would be the end of October because the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

In the other scenario, the department would send all its available dollars to essential services that may not charge fees: hearing screening, vision screening, immunizations and waivers, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and the communicable disease program. They would make it seven weeks after Oct. 1.

At the same time, programs that may charge fees would remain — but those fees would triple to make the programs self-sustaining. Fees for food safety inspections would increase from $700 to $2,100 per license. Fees for a drinking water well permit would increase from $400 to $1,200 and new sewage disposal permits would increase from $535 to $1,605. Fees for inspections of wells and sewage systems before a property sale would increase from $300 to $900.

Hambley said that under a $2.5 million budget, about 67% would go to fund administrative expenses. She said that would “not meet the minimum maintenance of effort to provide mandated programs as is required by law.”

“These cuts do not save taxpayers money but serve to reduce services that the County is required to provide to protect the health and safety of the community,” Hambley’s response to Gibbs reads in part. “It strips citizens of the services they are guaranteed under the law and the rights they are granted under the Michigan Constitution. These actions are not fiscally conservative but fiscally, and legally, irresponsible.”

Hambley also criticized an instruction to present her budget “discontinuing all COVID-related grants,” saying that while those grants may have COVID in the name or description, “they are designed to cover various public health purposes including preventing the spread of communicable disease and health risks other than COVID-19.”

“This funding request at this level is a real threat to public health and safety in our community,” Hambley told News 8.

After Hambley’s response was released, News 8 reached out to Gibbs late Thursday evening, after regular business hours, seeking comment.

But on Wednesday, before Hambley completed her response, Gibbs told News 8 in a statement that it was “perfectly reasonable” to expect the health department’s budget to “match their average levels over the pre-COVID period.”

A public hearing on the budget is set for Sept. 12. Final approval will come Sept. 26.