OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa County leaders are rejecting an assertion from the county’s top health officer that the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year would cause her department to close, calling the claim “patently false” and saying it was a “fear-mongering tactic.”

“In line with fiscal responsibility and making the most of taxpayer dollars, the County is requiring that the general fund contribution to (the Department of Public Health’s) budget return to average pre-COVID levels,” a Monday release read. “This is a process all American families and businesses are going through, and it will not result in the discontinuation of any mandated services, and especially not the closure of the Public Health Department.”

The release from Ottawa County did not include an affiliation with a specific department or spokesperson, but listed County Administrator John Gibbs and Board of Commissioners Chair Joe Moss as the media contacts.

Last week, Ottawa County Administrative Health Officer Adeline Hambley said Gibbs told her to limit her department’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year to $2.5 million from the general fund. Calling that amount “unreasonable,” Hambley indicated her department needed about $1 million more to cover administrative costs. She released a spreadsheet showing that in the 2020 fiscal year, which was implemented before the pandemic, the department received a total of $3.7 million from the general fund; about $1.1 million of that went to administrative costs.

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

In Monday’s release, the county said the average annual amount the department got from the general fund before the pandemic was about $3.8 million. It said “a contribution from (the health department’s) fund balance” would bring its total dollars for the upcoming year “as close to the $3.8 million general fund contribution figure as possible.”

The county added that Hambley asked for $6.7 million from the general fund for the upcoming year.

A graph released by Ottawa County showing public health spending dating back to 2009.
A graph released by Ottawa County on Aug. 28, 2023, showing public health spending dating back to the 2009 fiscal year.

The county also pointed out that the health department’s staff has increased from about 90 before the pandemic to about 120 now.

“This 33% increase in personnel is far higher than the rate of inflation or population growth of Ottawa County,” the release reads.

Hambley said that if limited to $2.5 million, her department would shutter in a matter of weeks and costs for certain food, well water and wastewater inspections would triple.

The Monday release called Hambley’s claims that the department county not survive “disingenuous” and said she was making them “in bad faith for political purposes.”

“For the Director of Public Health to attempt to influence the budget process through media theatrics, instead of good faith conversations with the County Administrator and the Board of Commissioners, is totally inappropriate and unprofessional,” the release read in part.

Hambley and commissioners backed by Chair Moss’ conservative Ottawa Impact political committee are embroiled in a legal battle over their attempt to oust her. Moss formed Ottawa Impact after the health department shut down his kids’ school for ignoring COVID-era mask mandates. Hambley has called the budget proposal “retaliatory.”

The county on Monday called her actions “insubordinate and unprofessional.” And, it said, she has not provided a budget proposal based on the $2.5 million amount.

“The County will not stand for any attempts by the Department of Public Health to cut essential programs unnecessarily, for political spectacle or media theatrics. The families who are served by the Department of Public Health deserve better, and will not be political pawns,” the release said.


But the battle isn’t just over money.

Hambley and her attorney released a statement Monday saying, in part, that the department no longer has access to their social media profiles.

“Twitter on X, our Facebook page are no longer managed by the Health Department. We’ve had our access removed and we’re locked out of those accounts by administration,” Hambley said in a news conference Monday.

She also said they lost access to GovDelivery, which is the county mail subscription platform.

“We wanted to make sure that the word got out has the information that’s posted on there is not being posted on behalf of Ottawa County Department of Public Health or the Health Officer,” she said.

The department is looking into other ways to communicate credible health information and updates.

Meanwhile, the Health Department has reached out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“I can say in the past, they have held firm to what is in the state budget that says: If the minimum funding requirement for the county or the district health department isn’t met that they won’t release the funds for the state allocation of those mandated services,” said Hambley.

The county said the budget is still being worked out and changes may still be made.

“As we work to finalize the budget, adjustments may be made based on additional information. The County will continue to work through the details of the budget process, with or without assistance from Public Health Department leaders,” the Monday release read. “We remain committed to ensuring the Public Health Department meets the needs of the community, serving our children, families, and individuals with excellence while ensuring fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers of Ottawa County.”

A public hearing on the spending plan is set for Sept. 12 and final approval is expected Sept. 26. The next fiscal year starts Oct. 1.