The Southeast Utah Health Department is here to stay.
Commissioners in Carbon and Emery counties have officially rescinded their previous resolutions to withdraw from the department, which was on the verge of dissolving as recently as October. They also signed a memorandum of understanding that recognizes the need to continue the department’s operations as a tri-county entity through 2018, as they work on a revised interlocal agreement that governs the department.
The Grand County Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday, Dec. 19, to ratify council chair Jaylyn Hawks’ signature on the memorandum, prompting applause from the council’s chambers; Rory Paxman and Greg Halliday were absent from the meeting.
“It looks like we’ll be united as a health department, still,” Hawks said.
Over the next month or two, Hawks said she expects that the county council and its counterparts will work out the remaining details in the memorandum, and then come up with a final plan for an interlocal agreement.
In rescinding their earlier actions, the two other counties have given Grand County officials one key reassurance they were seeking.
“We wanted it on there that Carbon and Emery counties would withdraw their motions to withdraw (from the department),” Hawks told the Moab Sun News.
Although there’s still work to be done on the interlocal agreement, Hawks said she’s looking forward to that process.
“I’m excited to continue the conversation,” she said.
Now that the resolutions to withdraw from the department have been rescinded, Emery County Commissioner Kent Wilson told the Moab Sun News that the situation is returning to normal.
“Everything is getting back to the status quo, with the goal of making some changes to the interlocal agreement over the next 60 days,” Wilson said on Wednesday, Dec. 20.
“All of the counties agreed that there is nothing out there that could cause us to separate from the board of health today,” he added. “So we can get back to doing our duty to the board of health.”
Carbon County commissioners previously filed a 90-day notice of intent to withdraw from the department, and commissioners in Emery County later signaled that they were interested in following suit. During that time, leaders in Carbon County discussed the possibility of forming a joint health department with Emery County, following reports of personality conflicts on the Southeast Utah Board of Health.
The nine-member board is comprised of one member from each county’s governing body, plus two at-large members from each of the three counties – including former Grand County Council chair Elizabeth Tubbs.
However, Tubbs’ tenure on the board is coming to an end: She said she informed the county council that she would not be applying for a reappointment once her current term expires on Sunday, Dec. 31.
Tubbs told the council on Oct. 3 that she’d been personally accused of causing “issues” on the health board, along with others from Grand County. But she said at the time that no one ever offered any details as to what she or anyone else from Grand County had done.
Although she’s sorry to be leaving the board, Tubbs told the Moab Sun News that she’s nonetheless glad the department won’t splinter apart.
“I am happy to know that the health department is going to stay together with the three counties,” she said. “Financially, it is not feasible for any one of the counties to provide all of the services that are now provided by a three-county agency. It would just be cost prohibitive.”
In 2016, the vast majority of the department’s revenues – about 67 percent – came from state and federal sources, while program fees and income generated another 16 percent. The three counties contributed another 12 percent, with just under $128,900 from Carbon County; $95,535 from Emery County; and $77,364 from Grand County.
Together, the three counties share major costs for departmental positions, including a health officer, a nursing director and an epidemiologist, according to Southeastern Utah Health Department Health Director Brady Bradford.
Other shared expenses include the costs for a Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program director, a dietitian, a budgeting and accounting officer and a management services specialist. In addition, the three counties help foot the bills for maintenance, supplies, utilities and a $22,336 annual lease on the Moab office building.
The interlocal agreement aims to address not just each county’s contributions to the department’s budget, but the composition of the health board – an issue that Wilson will be paying close attention to.
“To me, the stickler is going to be the makeup of the board,” he said.
According to Wilson, Carbon County commissioners are seeking greater representation on the department’s governing body.
“They feel like they have 50 percent of the population, so they feel like they deserve 50 percent of the board, and we’ve got to work through that,” he said.
Other issues include the process of hiring the department’s director; after some difficulties this year, he said, he wants that process to be clearer in the future.
One significant change has already been implemented, he said: The department’s governing board now has legal counsel present at its meetings.
“The attorney can clue them in if they’re doing things that are outside their responsibilities,” Wilson said. “To me, that’s probably the most important thing that’s happened to bring stability to this board.”
Carbon, Emery counties rescind actions to withdraw from regional service
All of the counties agreed that there is nothing out there that could cause us to separate from the board of health today … So we can get back to doing our duty to the board of health.