ELYRIA — The Elyria City Health District as people know it today will no longer exist as of Dec. 31.
The department will dissolve, putting about 20 people out of work, and services will fold into the Lorain County General Health District on Jan. 1. That’s the likely schedule put into motion with a 7-4 vote by Elyria City Council on Monday night.
The decision has been two months in the making since Mayor Holly Brinda recommended Elyria stop being a public health service provider and allow the county agency to extend its reach.
Brinda has been firm in her belief that changes in public health, including a mandate by the Ohio Department of Health that health departments become accredited, put Elyria’s department in a vulnerable position. Joining the county, which would save the city about $700,000 annually in general fund expenses, would allow the county agency to maximize its efforts and take the weight of accreditation off the city.
However, the decision did not come easily.
Council members debated the department closure, including how it would impose a mandatory property tax on Elyria voters who wouldn’t see the issue on a ballot for years. The taxation issue came up again Monday, although it was not enough to turn the vote in another direction.
“I was not going to vote to tax my people,” said Councilwoman Brenda Davis, D-2nd Ward. “That, and we are putting our people out of work.”
Davis, along with Councilmen Larry Tanner, D-1st Ward, Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, and Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, all voted against turning health services over to the county.
The mood of Monday’s meeting was surprisingly different from previous meetings that stretched on with public comments and debate. This time, Council held the entirety of its regularly scheduled meeting in 36 minutes, with health care coming last on the agenda.
No one spoke from the audience about the issue, although health department employees were in Council chambers.
“We’re disappointed City Council chose to vote the way they did,” said William Nowel, staff representative at AFCSME Council 8. “Now, what we will do is turn our focus to making sure employees have jobs, either with the city or with the county health department.”
Madison proposed to hold off on the merger until Jan. 1, 2018, to allow for the development of a more-detailed transition plan that lets employees have more control over their future and gives residents reassurances that services would continue, he said. Davis seconded Madison’s attempt to amend the start date, but the measure failed.
“From the beginning, I have said merging is not a bad thing, and we seem to be going that way, but I wanted to look at what options existed beyond voting to end things tonight,” Madison said. “Waiting a year would give everyone the information they needed.”
Councilman Jack Baird, R-at large, disagreed. Seven months is an adequate amount of time to map out a transition plan, he said.
“Waiting is a disservice to employees,” he said.
Tanner said an additional year would not have mattered to him. He wanted to keep the Elyria department intact.
“The county is good in what they do, but they can’t match our personnel and employees in our health department,” said.
Elyria marked the last city domino to fall. Lorain and Avon Lake, the only other cities not in the county department, voted to fold into the county agency earlier this year. Lorain was first and Avon Lake formalized its decision this month.
Lorain County Health Commissioner Dave Covell said the Health District’s Advisory Board will meet May 24 to formally accept the municipalities into the district, then attention will turn to levy planning. With Lorain, Elyria and Avon Lake all in, Covell said the current 1-mill levy could be reduced by half with voters seeing a 0.5-mill levy issue in November.