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End of the road

WINTON – Nearly 14 years after its formation, the road ends for the Hertford County Public Health Authority (HCPHA).

At a special called meeting here Tuesday afternoon, a majority of the Hertford County Board of Commissioners approved two resolutions by separate motions: (1) to dissolve the HCPHA effective June 30; and (2) join Albemarle Regional Health Services effective July 1.

Both motions, voiced by Commissioner Ronald Gatling, were approved by 4-1 votes. Commissioner John Horton, who opposed both measures, placed a motion on the floor, asking to amend the first motion by waiting one extra year to dissolve HCPHA (effective June 30, 2019). Horton’s motion died due to a lack of a second.

Both of the measures approved Tuesday came after it was revealed earlier this month that an audit of the HCPHA finances for fiscal year 2016-17 showed its liabilities exceeded its assets by $1,972,974 (net position). The audit also noted that during the same time period, HCPHA’s expenditures exceeded revenues by $322,201 on the modified accrual basis, and by $496,381 on the full accrual basis.

As noted in the first motion, the county commissioners “determined that in order to keep and expand public health services for the citizens of Hertford County at a reasonable cost to the taxpayers, it is not economically feasible to provide public health services as a single county public health authority.”

In the second motion, the commissioners “determined that the best means of providing public health services for the citizens of Hertford County and to be able to keep and expand public health services on an economically feasible basis is through a multi-county entity rather than a single county health department or authority.”

Murfreesboro attorney Charles “Chuck” Revelle, legal counsel to the board of commissioners, pointed out that the state law requires that any surpluses of HCPHA will be made available to the county. However, he mentioned that the law does not state what happens to the liabilities of HCPHA.

“This board has determined it will assume the assets and the liabilities of HCPHA, whatever they may be,” Revelle said.

He added that should address a request made by a recent HCPHA retiree, asking the commissioners to consider paying the medical insurance of those approximate 13-to-15 retirees. It was noted that all those retirees are currently receiving Medicare. Thusly, the county’s end of the bargain would be to cover the cost of supplemental insurance.

As far as the merger with Albemarle, Revelle said it was a better choice from an economic standpoint.

“The most important aspect of that merger is the cost of the provision of services,” Revelle told the board. “Another key aspect is being able to keep and expand the services that are currently offered. Albemarle is promising to ensure quality health services provided to all citizens of the county. They will take on all (health) programs and they will receive the revenues. They are not accepting any liabilities, known or unknown, that exist prior to July 1.”

As is the current means of contributing annually (now at $383,000) to the operational costs of HCPHA, the county will incur costs to join Albemarle. For the first 10 years, Revelle noted that those costs will be two-fold. The operational cost will be $240,126 in the first year. That annual cost increases by 2.5 percent each subsequent year.

The second component, he said, is a requirement by Albemarle Regional Health Services stating that Hertford County must buy into its fund balance.

As of July 2017, Albemarle listed a fund balance of $9,428,783. Based on its population, Hertford County’s “buy-in” will total $1,414,317. That total amount will be paid over a 10-year period ($141,432 annually).

Adding in the annual operational costs, Hertford County’s total payment to Albemarle for the first year (2018-19) will be $381,558.

“That total amount is approximately the same you (commissioners) appropriated your current fiscal year budget to operate a single county public health authority, and that was just for operational costs,” Revelle remarked.

He further explained the $381,558 is required to be pre-paid to Albemarle by July 10. After that, the cost is divided into 12 equal monthly payments.

As far as current HCPHA employees that choose to transfer as part of the merger, Revelle pointed out that Albemarle, as a separate entity, can advertise to receive any new employee.

“There are 16 positions that will be retained by Albemarle,” Revelle said. “That means some current positions will not be continued. Those positions will be filled after an application and interview process. They will give preference to current HCPHA employees.”

The News-Herald was given two sets of numbers (21 and 25) regarding the current number of HCPHA employees.

All medical and office supplies in the inventory of HCPHA as of the merger date will become the property of Albemarle, as will all personal property assets such as office furniture.

Hertford County will maintain ownership of all buildings currently used by the HCPHA. The county will be responsible for all utilities, maintenance, upkeep, and major repairs/renovations to those buildings.

Meanwhile, the county, as part of the merger agreement, intends to secure the financial resources necessary to design and build a new building to be utilized for public health services and open it on or before July 1, 2028.

At the close of Revelle’s presentation regarding the merger, Commissioner Johnnie Ray Farmer said the decision to move forward in this new direction had taken months of discussion by the board.

“It’s not something we took lightly,” Farmer said. “We appreciate the job that our public health authority has provided over the years. We were looking for improved and expanded services, and that’s not to say we were not satisfied with what our people were providing. We just feel with a larger entity such as Albemarle, the opportunities were greater for improved services.”

Albemarle Regional Health Services currently encompasses Pasquotank, Perquimans, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Bertie, and Gates counties.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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