Proration Forces Cuts At Health Department


By Lisa Blackwell

On Friday, Governor Robert Bentley ordered cuts of nearly 11 percent in the General Fund budget.

Now state departments are figuring out where they will make adjustments.

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s budget is getting slashed by six million dollars.

State health officer Don Williamson says he will be making cuts now that he had originally planned to make next fiscal year.

Those include cutting back many restaurant inspections from three times per year to two.

Another area that will get cut is septic tank inspections.

The department will continue to test soil samples for septic tank installations, but they will reduce the number of installations they oversee.

“We’ll probably have to move from watching every septic tank get buried to watching on e out of ten be buried focusing our time on those installers who have had previous problems or where the soil is really, really challenging,” said Williamson.

Williamson says they are looking at cutting clinic hours in some counties and asking patients to go to another county for treatment.

He’s concerned that people with diseases like tuberculosis or sexually transmitted diseases may not travel for treatment.

“Is that ideal no, but it still creates the opportunity for them to be treated of course our concern is that if people don’t get treated in one county that they may not go to the next county they may not refrain from sexual activity and then we may have more people that we have to identify, so that’s a concern,” said Williamson.

Assistant finance director Bill Newton says the deficit between available revenues and appropriations was around 188 million dollars.

He says that deficit is due to overestimation of revenue from taxes on oil and profits made on investments in the Alabama Trust Fund.

“The fourth quarter of our last fiscal year the stock market went down significantly and that led to less earnings on our investments,” said Newton.

He says while it’s tough to see services like those of the health department get cut there is no other option.

“Dr. Williamson and other department heads will have to make tough decision on what services to fund and which ones to cut back and there will be noticeable ramifications from these cutbacks,” said Newton.

Williamson says the number of patients treated for HIV/Aids will also be reduced.

He says the ramifications of cuts made now may not be known for several years.

“I am very concerned that there are consequences but at the end of the day the citizens through their legislators determine how much money they want to spend to support government and for people like me I have the responsibility to try to use the resources we’re given in the most effective way to minimize disruptions for both citizens and employees,” said Williamson.

Williamson says he will look at attrition and vacant jobs before considering cutting employees.

The department faces another potential 15 million dollars in cuts for the next fiscal year.