County Health Department Looking At Major Potential Budget Cuts

It came out of the blue for Public Health Director, Nick Sciarini.

"I found out about the potential for our budget being at $300,000 instead of the requested $600,000 by reading it in the newspaper at breakfast," says Sciarrini.

But the possible budget cuts for the health district were discussed in the County Commissioners Curt meeting earlier this week.

Sciarrini says no one ever talked with him or anyone else from the Health District about the proposed budget.

In 2002 and 2003 the Health District received the 600,000 dollars. Last year they were hit with a 10 percent cut. Now, the Commissioners Court has proposed cutting this years requested budget in half.

And after losing 15 to 35 percent of their state grants for the year, Sciarrini says they were counting on the county to come through for them.

"The city money and the county money are the way we make up the difference when I can't find the grant money to pay for something. So a 300,000 dollar cut, a 50% cut is very significant," Sciarrini.

Sciarrini says the lost funds will make life difficult for the 60 thousand uninsured in Smith County who may turn to the Health Department for affordable health care.

"The areas that will be most affected will be clinical care, that may have future impact. But it will probably be impacting health education, possibly some of our disease surveillance activities, possibly milk and water testing, inspections of restaurants and day care centers," Sciarrini.

We attempted to contact County Judge, Becky Dempsy, but she said she was unavailable for an on-camera interview. She did release a statement saying... "We had some difficult decisions to make, but we were able to give them 300,0000 as opposed to some agencies being cut altogether."

Among the agencies proposed for being cut, are the Smith County Historical Society,and the Heart of Tyler/Main Street Group but Sciarrini says, they are not an agency.

"It's pretty upsetting about some of the terms that were in there about us being a charity. It's like there's a piece of whoever's crafting this that doesn't understand that the Health District is a government entity. We were created by the city and the county. We're the city's and the county's Health Department. We have certain legal responsibilities to do," Sciarrini.

If the county's proposed cuts are approved and clinical care is reduced, Sciarrini says it could mean losing federal grant money also, making it even harder for the Health Department to keep their doors open.

"The District will do everything they can to find funding from other sources but we still need that core funding from Smith County to continue operations," says Sciarrini.

Reporting: braid sharp