OLIVE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Embattled Ottawa County health officer Adeline Hambley says a new proposal narrowing potential cuts to the health department isn’t good enough.

Hambley and County Administrator John Gibbs indicated Tuesday that under a new proposal, the health department would receive $4.3 million for the upcoming fiscal year.

That proposal is much higher than Gibbs’s initial request, $2.5 million, that Hambley said would force the health department to close.

The conflict between Hambley and Ottawa Impact-affiliated commissioners continued in a contentious Finance and Administration Committee meeting Tuesday, with the clock ticking before the budget deadline.

Hambley went before the committee with her attorney by her side, as she remains embroiled in a lawsuit against the board for attempting to oust her in January and replace her with Nathaniel Kelly. That lawsuit is currently before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Joe Moss, the chairman of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners, asked Hambley why the health department tagged the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Attorney General and the National Association of County and City Health Officials in a social media post last month letting the public know the Ottawa County health department would close if the proposed $2.5 million budget cut went through.

Hambley’s attorney, Sarah Howard, stepped in and objected to the questioning, saying her client wasn’t notified in advance and she was “summoned (there) without further explanation.”

“There was no prior notice of this,” Howard said. “This is highly unprecedented.”

Moss offered to withdraw the question, but the board entered a recess to allow Hambley to counsel Howard. When commissioners returned, Hambley explained the health department’s rationale for the Aug. 24 social media post.

“These are agencies that have an interest in our funding and are directly impacted if we have to close our doors and cannot provide local public health services,” Hambley said.

That post was part of a battle that began a few weeks ago when Hambley says Gibbs directed her to prepare for a $2.5 million budget, much less than her original $6.4 million request.

Hambley later told News 8 large cuts would likely force the health department to close within four to seven weeks of Oct. 1 and eliminate services.

An unsigned news release by Ottawa County leaders, listing Moss and Gibbs as media contacts, called Hambley’s claims “patently false” and “fear-mongering.”

“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 stated.

Hambley said the new $4.3 million in general fund allocation for the health department is an improvement but “far less than is needed to provide our core services.”

Hambley said under the new proposal, there would be significant cuts to immunizations, STD testing and prevention, communicable disease investigations and health promotion programs including suicide prevention, substance use prevention and food assistance. The health officer then said it would significantly cut funding for a program providing dental services for uninsured or underinsured children.

“In some instances, you are literally taking services out of the mouths of children with these actions,” Hambley said. “This is not returning to pre-COVID budget levels since it results in cuts to services and positions that existed pre-COVID.”

Ottawa County Health Officer Adeline Hambley speaks to the Board of Commissioners. (Sept. 5, 2023)

Some of those programs would have their funding cut by more than half under the proposal, Hambley said. Funding for immunizations would decrease from $248,543 to $65,600. Communicable disease investigations would fall from $888,606 to $440,531 in funding.

Commissioner Allison Miedema asked Hambley to later provide more information about the dental program, including the number of clients since 2019.

Gibbs laid out his rationale for the proposed budget cuts in the meeting as well.

“The COVID pandemic is over, and we want to make sure that’s reflected in what our budget looks like,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said the new budget proposal is 53% higher than the health department’s 2019 fiscal year funding before the pandemic, not adjusting for inflation. Gibbs also said the new proposed overall budget is a 22% increase in comparison to the 2019 budget.

“The narratives around massive, massive cuts eliminating programs are not really backed up by the facts we’re looking at,” Gibbs said.

“Just like all American families and American businesses that have been looking at their budget and adjusting things, we want to make sure we do the same thing as well to adjust for realities,” Gibbs continued.

Commissioner Doug Zylstra, a Democrat, said commissioners did not receive a copy of the budget proposal during Gibbs’s presentation. News 8 has also not seen the exact details. Gibbs said everyone would receive the full proposal soon but did not provide a specific date.

In his questioning of Hambley on Tuesday, Moss stressed that the budget has not been finalized yet and there is still plenty of time to sort out the conflict with public budget discussions to come later this month.

“During this whole process, there’s been time for discussion and working through all this, but we still have three weeks left still from today,” Moss said.

Hambley told Moss that’s “good to hear” because it “hasn’t felt or seemed like a discussion until this point.”

There will be a public hearing on the budget next Tuesday, Sept. 12. Commissioners are expected to vote to finalize a budget on Sept. 26.