WARREN — Health departments in cities with a population of fewer than 50,000, like Warren, could face mandates to join their county health districts.
The proposed state budget bill first mandated city departments to merge, but after going through the House Finance Committee, the language has changed to require a study in these cities to determine if the department should merge with the county districts.
HB 110 passed Wednesday in the House and was introduced Thursday in the state Senate. The Senate could make changes to the language as it moves through the legislative process.
The bill language states it would require “each city with a population less than 50,000 served by a board of health of a city health district to complete a study evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness of merging with the general health district that includes the city for the administration of health affairs in the merged general health district,” according to a summary of the bill produced by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
The language now states the state director of health and the state auditor will be required to develop criteria to determine whether a merger between the city and county departments is “advisable” and requires the city itself to conduct an evaluation using the criteria.
Following the study, the city’s chief executive, Mayor Doug Franklin in Warren, will determine if the study “indicates that a merger is advisable” and if it is, requires the mayor to enter into a contract with the county district’s advisory council to administer health affairs in a merged district, the summary states, unless the advisory council “delays the merger for good cause.”
The cost to conduct the study “may” be covered by a $6 million earmark, the summary states.
John May, deputy health commissioner for Warren, said both the county and city health districts are aware of the language, and neither see a reason to merge and feel it would be a detriment.
“Currently, we do not see a reason to merge. Being able to provide direct service to Warren city residents is vital,” May said.
A merge would “undoubtedly decrease accessibility, response time, and direct assistance” to people who need it, May said.
The Trumbull County Combined Health District covers every other community in Trumbull County.
John Brown, Warren city councilman at-Large, said he has reached out to the area’s state representatives in hopes of saving the city’s health department and to city council’s health and wellness committee to develop a resolution against the language.
Brown said the city’s health department generates money and May, who took over the office last year, is doing an excellent job of running the department — in the trying times of the pandemic.
The old language states the director of health would determine how much Ohio Department of Health funds given to an abolished city department would be transferred to the new district and gave the departments and boards two years to comply.
“General health districts that absorb the duties and powers of abolished boards would experience impacts including: the transfer of the abolished board’s employees; responsibility for administering ongoing projects or grants of the abolished board; and providing services to a larger population,” the summary states.