The Northeast Texas Public Health District is facing a tough budget year after a cut in funding from the city of Tyler and uncertainty in state funding.
Cuts to services are possible, but the health department won’t know for sure until it hears about the status of state funding.
Smith County and the city of Tyler each filed proposed budgets for fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 31, 2018. Each are in the midst of holding public hearings on those budgets and the tax rates they are based on.
This means the health department is in the early stages of preparing its own budget. The department partners with the city of Tyler and Smith County to do restaurant inspections and permitting.
It also handles public health and disease prevention initiatives and has the contract to offer WIC (Women, Infants and Children) services for several counties, among other programs.
In years past, the city of Tyler contributed $409,500 to the agency for services provided, plus another $66,000 to help fund the Center for Healthy Living on Vine Avenue.
Due to budget constraints, the city cut its funding to the health department in half - to $200,000 annually. It will continue to pay its contribution to the Center for Healthy Living, which is housed in a former Tyler fire station.
The $200,000 figure matches what Smith County contributes to NET Health.
NET Health CEO George Roberts said the decrease in funding wasn’t a surprise, and the city communicated the change in advance.
“We have had a great partnership with the city for many, many years now, and they have been a great partner,” Roberts said. “We realize this is a difficult time for the city and they have had to deal with this difficult time and issues.”
Roberts said department heads are working on individual budget requests. Those will be compiled, trimmed and presented to the health department’s board of directors for approval at the end of September. The health department’s fiscal year follows the city and county’s, which run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 31.
“We have to look at our budget and we have to come up with $200,000 from somewhere,” Roberts said. “We will have to look at our services and our staffing levels, and as we develop a budget we will take that into consideration. Our job is to prevent illness, promote health and protect our community. We look forward to providing our services to Tyler and Smith County.”
In addition to the cuts from the city, the health department also may receive funding cuts from the state.
“They (the Department of State Health Services) have not been able to tell us what the cuts from the state will be,” Roberts said. “They are working on it and are trying to reduce the impact to the local health departments, but they don’t have the answers yet.”
The department also funnels federal money into local health departments.
Some of the programs the state funds include public health preparedness and disease surveillance programs, as well as an immunization grant and tuberculosis control funding. Other grants help fund a lab that tests water samples for E. coli and chloroform for a 35-county region.
“We have a certain number of grants that the state is contractually obligated to fund, but they could come back and say, ‘We don’t have the funding for this, and we can’t give it to you because our budget has been cut,’” Roberts said.
The agency does have about $2 million in reserve funds, but it’s unclear if it’s enough to cover the cuts.
“Our leadership team is looking at their expense budgets,” Roberts said. “After they do that, we will find out the consequences of budget cuts. We will face this as a team, and we will do what we have to do to get through this.”