Wayne County Council approved making two grant-funded health department positions county employees, after significant debate.

The two positions — a full-time coordinator and a part-time employee — work as part of the fetal infant mortality review grant. A committee reviews all fetal deaths and deaths of infants up to 1 year old in Wayne and several surrounding counties to see if any interventions could have improved the outcome.

Christine Stinson, executive director of the Wayne County Health Department, said during the Aug. 2 council meeting that trends have emerged that influence the department’s education programs for expecting and new parents.

The employees previously were contract employees through Heartland Community Services. However, the health department terminated its relationship with Heartland. Stinson, who had received permission to pursue the grant by the county’s Board of Health and the county commissioners, had received notice the department received the grant funding.

Some council members took issue with the grant application and acceptance process. Council members needed to decide whether to support acceptance of the grant funds Aug. 2, because that was the deadline for Stinson to notify the state whether the funds would be accepted.

Council voted 4-2 to accept the money and add the county positions. Beth Leisure and Gary Saunders opposed making the positions county employees. Both said they opposed county employees working with the other counties. Other members stressed that the program was too important not to accept the funding.

Stinson told council that when other grants come up for renewal, she would request that council also change three more grant-funded positions previously contracted through Heartland to county employees. The grants pay for the employee salaries and fringe costs.

Budget time

Council also heard budget proposals from the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County, Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau and Sheriff Randy Retter.

As part of the budget discussion, council member Tony Gillam said council has received 2024 requests for an additional $4.4 million above the 2023 budget and for 35 additional employees, but the county expects only an additional $680,000 available through property tax payments. Of that, about a third is earmarked to cover additional costs in the new jail health care contract with Quality Correctional Care.

Each 1% of across-the-board raise for county employees would require about $220,000, Gillam said.

“Our dollars are limited, and the requests are higher than I’ve ever seen,” Gillam said.

The EDC budget comes from Economic Development Income Tax funds. Valerie Shaffer, the EDC’s president, presented a $775,594.77 budget for 2024, which is about a 3.5% increase, mostly in personnel costs.

Shaffer highlighted EDC work this year with Liberation Labs, Viking Group, Blue Buffalo and Anchor Ingredients announcing projects totaling $418 million in investments and 246 new jobs. However, she said Viking Group has put its project on hold as it analyzes whether the proposed project scope is the correct size for its future.

Tourism funding comes from the innkeeper’s tax paid by those staying in Wayne County lodgings. Mary Walker, the bureau’s executive director, presented a budget of $958,660 and debt service of $40,840.

Walker highlighted the April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse opportunity for the county, saying the goal is “controlled chaos” in the area.

Retter requested adding one new transport officer as part of the jail budget and moving the department’s evidence technician from part time to full time. He said state-mandated transfers of Reid Health mental health patients strain his department, which had 138 such transfers through July.

The evidence technician would use the 11 additional weekly hours to help the department handle the significant increase it’s seeing in Freedom of Information Act requests for video, which must be reviewed and redacted.

WUR efforts

Council approved 6-0 a letter of support for Wayne Union Recycling and Richmond Sanitary District as it pursues a Wayne County Foundation grant to expand recycling throughout Wayne County. The county’s commissioners later also approved 3-0 providing a support letter for the grant effort.

Council member Cathy Williams said WUR recently conducted a paper shredding event that collected 3,575 pounds of paper.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 9 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.