Health Department cuts budget per state's request

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

The Carter County Health Department, like all state agencies and departments, cut its proposed 2003-04 budget by nine percent per Gov. Phil Bredesen's "common-sense" budget presented to the General Assembly in March. The Health Center also requested the same amount of money from the county this year as it did last year, $169,000.
   In spite of tight economic times, Carter County Health Department Director Caroline Hurt said she is hopeful the county will be able to meet the department's financial request for the coming fiscal year.
   "We've already been hit by the reduction request from the governor. Because we are concerned about that, it is very important that we receive the amount we requested from the county since we did not ask for an increase, and we're hopeful," Hurt said.
   The department identified the types of reductions it would need to make to carry it through into the coming fiscal year, Hurt said, which translated into finding vacant positions in the region in order to avoid layoffs.
   "We had two vacancies across the region, including one nurse practitioner position in Carter County. We also decided to cut back on travel expenses and costs such as lab fees and consulting services," she said. "And we tried to be very conservative (in our request to the county) since we know the budget is tight."
   The majority of funds that come from the county go toward operational expenses to maintain the center on a day-to-day basis. Only one position is excluded from the amount the department receives.
   Hurt said she also recently met with Johnson County Health Department officials to prepare that departmental budget, which will presented to the Johnson County Commission.
   Under Bredesen's budget, reductions to state agencies and departments total $355.1 million. Exempted programs include K-12 education, Mental Retardation, Homeland Security, programs funded by dedicated taxes or fees, and judiciary programs.
   Cuts were made to balance the state budget as required by the state constitution.
   Also, a bill on which Bredesen's budgets for this year and next depend was approved unanimously by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday after an attempt to recover nearly $61 million in taxes to local governments failed on a party line vote, according to The Associated Press.
   The Omnibus Law Bill -- called the "Ominous Bill" by legislators for its politically demanding conditions -- passed after several attempts to stop the redirection of $60.7 million in state shared taxes. That money currently goes to city and county governments; the governor's proposal would transfer those dollars to the state's general fund.
   Bredesen proposed the change to help resolve an estimated $629 million deficit in next year's budget.
   The governor also abolished 845 positions, and 207 state employees lost their jobs.