Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bill Hatfield’s View: Boone County works to treat all nonprofits fairly

  • My View: Boone County works to treat all nonprofits fairly

  • This opinion piece was printed recently in the Rockford Register Star and is available on line at:
  • By Bill Hatfield

    Rockford Register Star

    By Bill Hatfield

    Posted Aug. 27, 2016 at 10:00 AM

  • Bill HatfieldBill Hatfield
  • By Bill Hatfield

  • Posted Aug. 27, 2016 at 10:00 AM

    In recent years a small group of vocal citizens has chosen to pressure the Boone County Board of Health, the Boone County Health Department and the County Board for continued special treatment at the expense of taxpayers and local businesses. They discovered that their not-for-profit status entitles them to the county code fee waiver for food permits.
    Fee waiver history: No waiver in the 1975 code. No waiver in the 1981 code. In 1987, a fee waiver was introduced for “nonprofit organizations such as: school districts, hospitals, day care centers and churches.” In 1995, the County Food Code was updated to comply with new state requirements.
    In that update the definition changed to “Bona fide not for profit organizations” based upon a conversation with the Illinois Department of Revenue that anyone having been issued an “E” tax number was an exclusively charitable organization and therefore “Bona fide not for profit.” The Board of Health then adopted the “E” tax number as the definition of an NFP but neglected to have it officially changed in the County Food Code.
    Instead of seeking consistency in the county code and calling for a fee waiver from all county fees, the group has concentrated on retaining the special treatment and is calling for elimination of the department. BCHD is an NFP organization that benefits Boone County citizens through a variety of services; many of which are either free or a reduced rate.
    Much revenue brought into the county through multiple state and federal grants can only be received by a “certified” local health department. Grants make up 44.9 percent of the department budget while the local taxpayer levy represents 24.3 percent. For every local tax dollar received, BCHD brings in $1.84 through grants, almost doubling the local tax contribution. A BCHD report is published annually, which gives a summary of services offered. At least 40,000 local citizens are impacted by BCHD services annually.
    Some false statements and wrong assumptions found in previous letters from the group are addressed below:
    BCHD wants to charge all nonprofits: BCHD seeks to remove special treatment enjoyed by some at a $20,000 annual expense to the local taxpayer. County code also waives food permit fees for NFPs located outside the county/state. The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a bona fide NFP established in California. Local taxpayers will subsidize them and other such groups if they apply for a Boone County food permit.
    Fees, no rhyme/reason: Actual costs incurred by BCHD for evaluating, permitting, educating and inspecting food facilities determine fees. The low risk permit cost was $162.21 in 2015. This baseline cost is adjusted to cover additional inspections/education/time required for establishments posing a higher risk of food-borne illness to the public. Illinois Department of Public Health Food Sanitation Code “risk” criteria are used by all Illinois health departments to determine minimum food management certification, education and inspection requirements.
Health Department says, "We are in the red. We need more money. We need more fees, now!": BCHD has never made that statement.
2013 wage increases: In 2013, the Health Department was unable to hire replacements for necessary positions due to noncompetitive wages. Adjustments brought wages in line with surrounding counties for similar positions.
Cindy Frank's 55 percent pay increase (2013): Published budgets show the administrator was paid $78,250 in 2013 and $80,116 in 2014; less than a 2 percent increase.
Administrator salary 2017: Administrators must meet qualifications required by Illinois statute that limit the ability to find and hire persons approvable by IDPH for the position. $90,675 is a maximum number in a proposed budget.
Combining jobs/layoffs: The balanced 2017 budget combines three management positions into two. Both remaining positions will assume more workload, responsibility and hands-on client contact activities day to day. Several BCHD vacated positions remain unfilled.
Money from taxes: Taxpayer money currently subsidizes all NFP food permit/education/inspection costs due to the NFP fee waiver. NFPs pay all other fees in the county code, from $5 clerk fees to $2,500 annual liquor licenses.
Volunteer organizations give back: The value of NFPs is not at issue. The issue is that everyone choosing to conduct an activity that causes an expense to the taxpayer must reimburse for that expense or choose to conduct an activity that has no cost to the taxpayer.
88 percent salaries and benefits: According to the Bureau of Labor Standards Economic News release, June 9, formula, the 15 workers at the department should have cost $1,322,977 in salaries and benefits. The department paid $979,852.
$500,000 in untapped grant money: All grants have requirements that must be met prior to grant expiration. There is no such thing as “untapped grant money.”
Food-borne Illness: BCHD has been required to assist in numerous food-borne illness investigations that occurred elsewhere. The only illness originating in Boone County recently was an outbreak at a closed event where volunteers were used and no permit was required.
Overtime: Employees who work weekends and evening hours are compensated by taking the equivalent hours off during their normal work week.
Crusader Clinic: BCHD works very closely with Crusader Clinic. Crusader can only offer medical services to those persons who are enrolled with the clinic and can afford a copay. Those who don’t qualify are referred to the Health Department for medical services.
Bill Hatfield is director of Environmental Health for the Boone County Health Department

No comments: