Mesa County lays off workers amid budget crisis

Julie LeBaron, a public health nurse for the Mesa County Health Department, gives a flu shot to Kristy Watkins at the county’s health facility at 510 29 1/2 Road.

The Mesa County Health Department will lay off a handful of employees, reduce the number of weekend and evening hours it inspects restaurants and boost fees for some of its services, as one of the most publicly visible county agencies deals with a countywide revenue shortfall.

The changes, which have either already been implemented or will go into effect Jan. 1, are intended to streamline an agency that absorbed a significant hit to its budget this year and is preparing for another chunk to be taken out next year.

“We want to ensure that we can continue to provide those core public health services and make it have as little impact on the public as possible,” Health Department spokeswoman Kristy Emerson said.

The department’s $8 million 2009 budget was chopped by nearly $1 million this year, and county leaders have informed the department that the county’s contribution is expected to drop 12 percent in 2011, from $828,000 to $728,000, Emerson said.

Roughly two-thirds of the department’s adopted $7 million budget this year came from grants. Fees accounted for 22 percent, while county tax money made up the remaining 12 percent, Emerson said.

To make up for the lost revenue, the Health Department will combine its immunization and family planning services into one program, resulting in the elimination of two full-time positions.

The 19 employees who currently provide those services will reapply for 17 positions, regardless of their duties or length of service.

“We know we have staff who are skilled and knowledgeable and some who have been here a long time,” Emerson said. “We’re just trying to ensure we have the most appropriate staff in place for this new model.”

She said employees will be cross-trained to give them skills in both immunizations and family planning, an efficiency that will particularly benefit the satellite office in Fruita. Currently, three Health Department employees staff that office to help clients with immunization, family planning and the county’s Women, Infants and Children supplemental food and nutritional program. Under the new system in which employees are crosstrained, only one employee will be needed in the Fruita office.

The melding of services also will allow the Health Department to offer immunizations again on Fridays. The department ended that practice in February as part of a series of budget cuts.

Other Health Department expense reductions include the elimination of a half-time environmental health services position and a full-time restaurant inspector. That will result in the county no longer performing percolation tests on individual sewage disposal systems — the private sector is expected to step in and pick up those duties — and reducing the number of hours employees conduct weekend and evening food inspections.

The Health Department also plans to help make up for a revenue shortfall by increasing fees it charges for water quality and child care facility services.


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