Thursday, April 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: Commissioner Todd Tennis (Health Dep't Review, FQHC Funding, and Road Patrol)

This week, I have once again asked a fellow County Commissioner to "guest blog" for me. This week, you get to hear from Commissioner Todd Tennis. Todd is the Chair of the county Human Services committee and has been an excellent representative of his constituents on the south part of Lansing. He is one of the people that I use as a sounding board on issues, and I trust and value his opinions greatly. Thanks, Todd, for providing your views this week!


Greetings readers! Andy has asked me to step in and write a guest blog this week, so please pardon the interruption from your normal dose of Schor goodness. As chair of the Ingham County Human Services Committee, this week’s blog will be more health department-based than normal. Please bear with me.

First some good news. Every three years, the Michigan Department of Community Health reviews our Ingham County Health Department’s organizational plan to ensure that we possess the administrative capacity to perform our required duties. In March we received word that, once again, our Ingham County Health Department has been approved for another three years by the state. Our Ingham County Health Department is run so well that this comes as no surprise to me and my fellow Commissioners. Nonetheless, I want to give credit to Health Department Director Dean Sienko and his outstanding staff for making this process smooth and uneventful.

Now for some bad news. The budget wrangling in Washington could have a huge negative impact on the Ingham County Health Department’s status as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). The county health department was granted this status in 2009, which allows us to receive a greater share of federal dollars to provide primary care services to Ingham County Residents who are on Medicaid. These extra dollars help us provide increased capacity for Ingham County residents who do not have access to health insurance.

Some of the massive federal spending cuts being considered could wipe out our FQHC status, potentially causing the Ingham County Health Department to lose out on millions in grants and reimbursement for the provision of primary health care. I encourage everyone who wants our county health department to continue to be a national leader in the provision of services to contact Congressman Mike Rogers, Senator Debbie Stabenow and Senator Carl Levin and urge them to ensure that funding will continue to support our FQHC status.

And what would good and bad be without ugly? Many of you may have seen our favorite onlooker John Schneider’s column recently about the lack of police protection in rural townships after the county cut funding to the Sheriff’s Office for rural road patrol. It told of the experience of an Alaiedon Township business owner who, after a burglary, received less response from the Sheriff than he expected. Sheriff Wriggelsworth suggested that he contact the County Commission, since we were the ones who cut his funding.

I do not blame the business owner or the Sheriff for being upset that funding for road patrol was cut. However, the vast majority of county residents pay taxes for police services over and above their county tax rate. As Mr. Schneider pointed out, Alaiedon Township residents narrowly defeated a millage question last year for police services. Also, as the article stated, the Sheriff would have investigated the incident, just not as rapidly as the business owner would have liked. With reduced capacity, the Sheriff must reserve his officers for immediate response to the most serious calls, and burglaries are not going to rise to that level. When my house was burglarized several years ago in Lansing, an officer was dispatched to take a report that same day. However, in hindsight, I would have gotten the same result if I was asked to file the complaint online (as the business owner in the Schneider article was asked to do).

The bottom line is that the county budget is not improving as fast as our economy. Until housing prices start to rise again, the County Commission will have to make more and more difficult and often unpopular decisions on county services. Some of these will include shifting costs (like we did by implementing a fee for hazardous material storage inspections), raising fees, or reducing or eliminating county programs. Our fiscal situation is further complicated by potential reductions in funding from the federal government (see above) and the state government (e.g. the Governor’s proposal to cut our Revenue Sharing funding by $2 million). There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but it is still a ways off for Ingham County.

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