BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Lee County Health Department is ramping up their efforts to convince Lee County voters the time is right to get the group a new building.
Julie Schilling, administrator for the LCHD, said continuing to operate out the group’s current facility is not functional to the services being provided and could be detrimental to the services going forward.
The proposed building would be just over 12,000 square feet with 9,900 square feet of staff and service area on the first floor and an additional 2,500 square feet in a basement for storage.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors approved a measure to allow the department to seek a referendum to bond for $2.6 million to build the facility.
Tammy Wilson, Financial Operations Director, said that would amount to a maximum $7.57 increase in annual property taxes on a home with a $100,000 assessed valuation for home owners in Lee County.
“All five supervisors approved up to $2.6 million to pay for the county owned building for the LCHD,” Schilling said. “It was also decided to have it on land that is already county owned.”
The construction is being proposed for the eastern portion of property where the county currently houses the sheriff’s department and jail. The building will be built on the east part of the lot to allow for any future expansion of the jail facilities.
To pass the referendum, Schilling said 60% of voters on May 2 will need to vote in favor of the referendum. The bond would be paid back in 20 years.
But Wilson said there will be savings immediately that could help reduce the $7.57 annual increase.
“When we go back to evaluations that $7.57 could be a little less because we have now budgeted for our rent and maintenance. We’ve already got some expenses in there that we wouldn’t have with the new building, specifically the rent,” Wilson said.
When we make our presentations to people we talk about what we are currently paying into a building that isn’t owned by the county. And, if we stay how much more we’re going to have to put in. In the long run this will save the county money.”
Since 1989, the county has spent $900,000 on a the building, according to Wilson. She said when looking at the increases in the rent and maintenance that will be needed, the county is staring at an additional $1.4 million in expenses in the same timeframe that would be used to pay back the $2.6 million bond.
The LCHD is currently located at 2218 Avenue H and is owned by AgeMark, a corporation that owns and operates senior and assisted living centers, including the Kensington in Fort Madison. Wilson said the LCHD is responsible for the majority of the maintenance as that’s how the lease was written.
When the LCHD moved into the the current location in 1989, the department employed 22 staff and administered six programs. Schilling said currently the department employes 36 employees, four contracted employees and handles 19 different programs.
“We can’t expand and we can’t continue to operate properly in our current facility,” she said. “So our building committee and board of health began looking at building our own facility,” Schilling said. “We’re not able to go into the upper floors because people are not allowed into the upper floors. It has been deemed to be unoccupiable. The Kensington is currently using the space for storage. We have several looked at different sites to rent. But some were too small, some too large, some not ADA accessible and needed extensive remodeling.So we decided the best thing for the county was too look at building new.”
The new facility would be easily accessible and more efficient in terms of operations. Wilson added that the new facility helps the county meet HIPPA privacy guidelines because it separates the departments so staff can’t easily be heard throughout the building, which is something the federal government looks at closely.
Schilling said the department is also looking for an accreditation from the National Public Health Accreditation Board which will help the staff continue to expand programming and enhance coverage for all residents of Lee County.
“We’ve expanded our home visiting programs for young families with newborns. We received additional grant funds because there was a need here due to the economy and we span the lifetime in terms of services. From prenatal to early child health services, up to all ages and the elderly. We touch so many lives of the people of this county.
The LCHD is also a player in Emergency Preparedness standards that were set after Sept. 11, 2001.
“If something major would happen we are a major player in emergency response,” Wilson said. “People don’t always think of us in that way but we may have we have to vaccinate or dispense medications. Our protocol now would be to take all our supplies and pack them to somewhere else. The new building would provide adequate storage for those and make it easy to set up.”
Absentee ballots for the referendum would be available beginning April 14 and the LCHD is promoting getting those ballots out to people that won’t be able to make it to the polls on May 2. Schilling and her staff have been making the rounds to local clubs and organizations and are continuing to do so to help get the message out the county residents. She said they are also planning three or four public meetings throughout the county in the next four weeks, but those dates haven’t been set and that information will be forthcoming.