Winnebago County looks for ways to close budget gap, some concerned about potential impact

WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WREX) — It doesn’t have any flashing lights or sirens, but the Winnebago County Health Department says it plays a key role in the community’s health.

“When people realize there’s been an outbreak or their children has gotten a letter from the school indicating their child has been exposed to someone in the classroom has a communicable disease, that’s because we have done the investigative work behind it,” Sandra Martell, the county’s public health administrator says.

The county is considering reducing how much the health department gets in property tax revenue.

It’s one way the county says it can help make up for a $4 million shortfall in its 2019 budget.

“They have actually had a surplus over the past few years and we’re looking at options where we could shift some property tax money to the general fund,” Carla Paschal, the Winnebago County Administrator says.

Martell says property tax dollars make up nearly 23 percent of her overall budget. If the county reduces how much she gets, she says fees for services like a birth or death certificate could go up.

It could also impact the department’s response to a natural disaster or disease outbreak.

“We’re out there on the front line to be able to prepare our population for an emergency and then help them respond and recover,” Martell says. “So, our ability and our capacity as we face more and more cuts and reductions is that we are not at full capacity to be able to respond to our public’s needs.”

But, county leaders say they also have to think about the big picture as they face a major deficit.

“Public health is very important, but we also have public safety concerns, so we wanted to give the board all the information to make a decision on what their priorities are,” Paschal says.

County leaders say this is just one of several options on the table to help bring down the county’s deficit. The full county board will make a final decision on September 27th.

Andi TenBarge

Andi TenBarge

Reporter

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