For Immediate Release
Contact: Crystal S. Campbell
BOC Communication and Operations Manager
[email protected] / (734) 478-1856
Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Consider Adding
Public Health and Seniors millage Language to November Ballot
Ann Arbor, MI – With the budgetary impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic predicted to affect all aspects of County government, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners plan to vote at their August 5th Board of Commissioners meeting on a resolution that would add a Public Health and Seniors millage to the November ballot. If the resolution passes, it will add ballot language asking voters to approve a new levy of .5 mills for six years. The proposed millage has the potential to raise $8.8 million when it’s first levied in December of this year. Half of funds raised would benefit public health services and 50% would be used on services targeting the county’s aging residents.
The Board understands that the public will have questions and wants to hear feedback from residents as they consider this proposal. We hope to answer some of those questions here. The Board also invites the public to participate or tune in to the August 5 Board of Commissioners meeting to learn more.
Katie Scott, District 9 Commissioner and registered nurse says,
"Washtenaw County is one of the wealthiest counties in not only Michigan, but the United States. We have the benefit of having a large Big Ten school and top tier health system, which keeps median incomes high and inflates property values. However, we are also the third worst performer in terms of equity in the state. We have two zip codes that have inordinately been affected by COVID-19 that are populated, by and large, by marginalized people. Our school districts have dramatically different outcomes, and we too, despite being a very progressive county, have had incidences of police brutality.”
Scott, who also co-sponsored the Board’s resolution declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis, sees the proposed millage as an opportunity to start to fulfill the goals of that resolution. She goes on to say,
“A public health millage would allow us to address more of these issues in a progressive and innovative manner than the current budget allows us to do. From food insecurity to access to recreational facilities, to the need to expand broadband for Telehealth and educational opportunities, the need to expand our county’s response to public health has never been greater. COVID has highlighted the importance of having a robust public health system, but inequalities and health disparities have shown us the need to address this issue county-wide.
Andy LaBarre is the commissioner for District 7 and sponsor of the resolution. He is championing the millage language as a means to positively impact health outcomes for seniors and residents throughout the county.
“Even before COVID-19, the Health Department serves Washtenaw’s 367,000 residents on an average of less than $4 per resident from the county’s general fund, and it receives insufficient state and federal funding to address both new needs and provide current services. In 2020 alone, COVID-19 has provided the paramount public health challenge of this century and Washtenaw County’s Health Department has been the lead county agency on this issue. Over the last four months the department has worked nearly around the clock to monitor coronavirus, contact every positive case, conduct comprehensive contact tracing, partner with local health systems to expand testing, distribute PPE, keep the public informed, issue local orders, enforce state mandates and still continue to provide additional, essential services. They have done amazing work, but the public health funding situation is unsustainable without either finding new revenue, taking resources from other vital county services, or a combination of both.”
The Health Department provides services that benefit residents of every age, income, racial, and geographic demographic throughout Washtenaw County. This includes critical disease surveillance and control as well as food and water inspections and accessible clinical and health promotion programs and services.
“Local health departments are the only entities with the legal responsibility to protect and assure the public’s health,” says Jimena Loveluck, MSW, Health Officer. “This means we provide a wide variety of services aimed at building the conditions and opportunities necessary to support good health for everyone. But our current resources are insufficient to support our work. Mandated services are not fully funded, and our budgeted funds did not anticipate the current COVID crisis.”
“Providing tuberculous services is an example of the many underfunded services we have to provide.” Loveluck continues, “We receive roughly $8000 per year in state funds to support this work. It costs us $300,000. Our work demands responding to community needs appropriately and when needed, and that’s increasingly difficult. Funding levels have remained static since 1992, but issues like 1,4-dioxane, vaccine waivers, PFAS, health equity, measles outbreaks, National Accreditation as well as food, housing, water and sanitation complaints demand and deserve increasing investment and attention.”
These services range from the preventative care to emergency response to routine maintenance of health conditions. In an average year, the Health Department provides nearly 63,000 specific health service deployments, approximately 172 per day. They do work around maternal and infant health, screen or treat for diseases, provide immunizations and blood lead tests, hearing and vision screenings. They facilitate the county’s WIC program, conduct ongoing disease investigations and distribute healthy food to communities in need. Many of the health department’s services are state-mandated but not state-funded- forcing them to stretch available resources to provide the best level of care possible in our community.
Public Health is different than medical care. The entire community is the “patient” with the goal of preventing problems before they occur. The proposed millage will allow funds to be used for vital public health services that cannot be sustained in the current environment, including those related to environmental health. Think: waste-water evaluation, property water disposal and safe drinking water. Think: inspections of restaurants, day cares, swimming pools, tattoo and piercing parlors.
The Environmental Health services provided by the Health Department help ensure broader safety conditions and protections for our community. In an average year, Environmental Health provides over 1,000 service deployments a month. And 2020 has been far from average.
Chair of the Board of Commissioners, Jason Morgan, expressed interest in hearing from residents as the Board considers whether to put a Public Health and Seniors millage on the ballot, saying,
“County Government is in a tough spot when it comes to managing the ongoing public health challenges facing our residents. COVID-19 has exasperated the health inequities in our community and shown the magnitude of the public health challenges we face, but we are facing so many more challenges than just COVID-19 and will be for years to come. We’ve been working very closely with our State and Federal officials and holding out hope for more Federal support, but it just doesn’t seem to be coming. So, we face a tough decision, do we put a millage on the ballot and give voters the choice to provide more support for public health and seniors, or do we just accept that we do not have the resources to do more? Commissioners need to hear feedback from residents over the next few weeks to help us make this decision.”
In addition to these ongoing services, the Health Department is also the lead agency in responding to major community challenges. Over the last three years, they’ve tackled PFAS detection and monitoring, a hepatitis A outbreak, the ongoing health impacts from the Gelman plume, multiple measles outbreaks, Eastern Equine Encephalitis response, education and prevention, monitored and responded to an ongoing opioid crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic. They have managed to do it all without increases in state or federal funds. Of this list, only the hepatitis A response brought additional, although temporary, response funding.
In terms of senior services, roughly 18% of Washtenaw County’s residents are over the age of 60. That number is expected to rise quickly and soon there will be more seniors than elementary aged children in the county. Washtenaw County is one of only 11 counties in the state that does not have a senior millage. On July 2nd, the Board of Commissioners established a Commission on Aging to advise the board on issues concerning seniors. If the proposed millage makes it to the November ballot and is passed by voters, the new commission would also make recommendations to Board about how captured funds could be spent to help the county’s rapidly aging population. Millage funds could be used to bolster existing services like meal delivery, subsidized senior housing and medical care. The proposed millage dollars could help programming that prevents elder abuse, supports long term care facilities, expands outreach and advocacy work and provides legal assistance.