9/19/2022 - Knox Public Health is seeking approval of a 1 mill operating levy on the Nov. 8 ballot. The proposed health levy is a replacement of the current .8 mill levy with a .2 mill increase. The current levy expires next year.
The increase equals an additional $7 a year for every $100,000 of property value. The replacement levy is for five years, with tax collection beginning in 2024, based on 2023 property values. The proposed levy will generate approximately $1.6 million a year.
“The levy is an important part of the agency’s funding, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the public health budget and helping to fund a variety of essential services,” said Health Commissioner Zach Green. “And while it’s important to understand what levy dollars go for, it’s also important to know what they can’t be used for.” That includes operation of the Community Health Center which is part of Knox Public Health and to purchase property.
A big area of growth during the past five years has been with the Community Health Center which opened offices in Danville in 2019 and acquired the Moore Family Practice and The Walk-In Clinic in 2021. Green explained that all of the Community Health Center locations are funded through federal grants and Moore Family Practice and The Walk-In Clinic were purchased using local funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). “We applaud the success of the Health Center and work hand-in-hand with the Center staff to address health inequities, but it is important that people know that the Health Center has its own funding stream. It does not use local tax dollars.”
With the growth in Health Center staff as well as staffing for public health programs and services, there is a shortage of office space at the main facility on Upper Gilchrist Road which the health department moved into in 2001. While it’s no secret the agency is actively looking for a new home, Green emphasized that the requested increase in levy funding is strictly for programs and services, and cannot be used to purchase or build a new facility.
The services and programs that levy dollars fund are numerous and multifaceted, including: immunizations for children and adults, health services such as community flu clinics and on-site school clinics; investigation and control of communicable disease such as TB, Chlamydia, Hepatitis, Pertussis and Lyme disease.
The levy also funds: mosquito surveillance and control; public health nuisance abatement; school facility inspections; investigation of animal bites and rabies prevention; maintaining birth and death records; health education including student programs on hygiene, puberty and handwashing; and community education on health issues.
Green said that while the agency charges fees for some services and receives state and local grants for some programs, the grants and fees only partially fund what it costs to provide these services and programs. “The health levy covers the remaining costs, including those for radon awareness, tobacco cessation, newborn home visiting, safe sleep program for infants, child car seat distribution, many environmental health programs and senior health and wellness.”
Green explained that for some service fees, part of the fee goes to the state. For example, of the $25 fee for birth and death certificates, more than half goes to the state where the funds are distributed among other state programs.
“For mandated environmental health programs, such as inspections for food service operations, campgrounds, public pools, beaches, septic systems and water wells, we are restricted on how much can be charged for fees which means local tax dollars pick up the uncovered costs for these mandated services,” said Green
Since passage of the last levy in 2017, Knox Public Health achieved national accreditation, at the time an achievement only attained by a handful of health departments in Ohio. Working with other community partners, the agency also conducted two Community Health Assessments and implemented two Community Improvement Plans. The latest plan includes steps to improve transportation to health care locations, address behavioral health issues and increase awareness of available resources.
Other accomplishments during the past five years include development of an ongoing quality improvement program and expansion of communication efforts such as an increased social media presence, online newsletter; outside digital sign and agency rebranding that included a new name, logo, and tagline. Knox Public Health also became a drop site for the OhioHealth Mothers’ Milk Bank to collect human milk for medically-fragile infants.
Most recently, Knox Public Health has been a leader in COVID-19 prevention, conducting testing clinics, administering over 23,000 doses of vaccine and documenting over 12,000 cases.
Public health services have been a part of Knox County since the mid-1850s when the city of Mount Vernon created a board of health. A county health department was formed in 1919 as a result of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and passage of the Hughes-Griswold Act which established the modern-day organization of local health departments in Ohio.
After more than 60 years of co-existence, in 1983 the county and city health departments were combined to form the Knox County General Health District which became known as the Knox County Health Department. In 2019, the agency changed its name to Knox Public Health.