Salina City Commissioners met in an emotional special session Monday evening to discuss the Salina-Saline County Health Department.
A structure problem with the roof caused the health department to close back in May of 2012. Since that time, city and county commissioners have been trying to come up with a plan for a permanent facility and the best course of action for the future of the agency.
During negotiations the city indicated that they intitially wanted to build a new facility at the current location. They ultimatley comprised and expressed interest in finding another larger, existing building. The county steadfastly has wanted to fix the current building.
Multiple people spoke Monday evening, several of them tearfully. All of them urged commisioners to not severe ties with the county in regard to the health department and instead negotiate a new inter-local agreement.
Health Department Executive Director Yvonne Gibbons said that the agency wants to remain a joint city / county health department. She asked that the issue of a new building be taken off the table, saying that staff is already preparing plans to better utilize space in the current building.
Commissioners also heard that employee insurance for the agency staff will greatly increase under the county plan. The agency currently is under the city plan. The cost of health insurance for the county plan would cost over $139,000 more a year for the employer. It would also cost employees more than double what they currently pay, or a little over $3,400 more a year.
Fears about program cuts were also expressed. In other counties in the state, where joint city-county health departments have split, over time programs have been lost.
Commissioner Aaron Householter was outspoken, appearing exasperated and angry at times. He expressed frustration in what he said was the county’s unwillingness to work with the city on the issue. At one point Householter and Mayor Barb Shirley had words. Householter asked the other commissioners to over-rule the mayor when she told him his time was up and the meeting must continue.
After hearing the comments, city commissioners went into executive session. Following the session, Salina City Attorney Greg Bengston said that an agreement between the city and the county concerning use of health department reserve funds to repair the building is at issue now because of a misunderstanding.
Commissioner Jon Blanchard made a motion to authorize the city attorney to forward a proposal to the county. Highlights of the proposal include:
1. $500,000 city funding for the building
2. $500,000 in health department reserve funds to be used for renovation only
3. The concept of an interlocal agreement be agreed upon and details then worked out
The proposal is contingent upon the health department staying intact.
The Saline County Commission is scheduled to disuss the issue Tuesday morning.