The Knox County Health Board has established a non-reverting fund to capture fines and fees paid by local restaurants and businesses found to be in non-compliance of state regulations.
The plan: to have a designated pot of money from which to draw for the health department’s most basic, daily needs.
County sanitarian Madeline Hatcher said the health department collects sometimes up to $35,000 per year from the fines paid by restaurants for state health code violations as well as fees from those seeking food service permits.
Typically, that money goes back into the heath department’s General Fund, but given growing concerns surrounding COVID-19, board members thought it best to begin designating a portion of money each year for the most basic of expenses.
After being approved by the county council during budget hearings last month, the non-reverting fund will now collect those dollars, and health department officials can use it, as necessary, to purchase everything from Personal Protective Equipment to even print materials, such as flyers and pamphlets.
The money, too, could go to upgrade equipment or technology.
It’s also possible — although not likely — that money from the non-reverting fund could go to pay staff, although health board members agreed it wouldn’t be best practice to connect payroll to collected fees so as not to arouse concerns from local businesses worried sanitarians are looking for violations in an effort to pay staff.
It could, however, be used in the event of an emergency, and health officials do happen to find themselves in something of an emergency right now.
County heath officer Dr. Alan Stewart said he failed to secure a state grant that pays for a part-time nurse at the immunization clinic.
The health board on Wednesday approved the expenditure of some remaining federal CARES Act funds to pay for that position through the end of the year, then money from this non-reverting fund could pay that nurse’s salary through June of 2021, at which time Stewart can again secure the necessary grant funds.
That position is vital, Stewart said, to his goal of eventually expanding the immunization clinic’s hours in an effort to service more children.
The county’s immunization rate amongst children recently dropped, health board members learned Wednesday, from 65% down to 59%, a number many of them were astounded by.
Pre-COVID-19, they’d begun conversations with county school corporations in an effort to host on-site immunization clinics. They hope to pick those discussions back up — at some point — but that additional nurse would play a huge role in getting that done, Stewart said.
The health board also on Wednesday opted not to replace a full-time position in the vital records department; there were previously two.
Per Stewart’s recommendation, vital records can make do with one full-time employee. The greater need, he said, is the addition of a full-time sanitarian as they look to take on more and more restaurant and business inspections.
So a current part-time sanitarian will be moved up to full-time, board members decided, thereby allowing Hatcher, who fills a variety of roles at the health department, including as a full-time sanitarian herself, can focus on more fiscal-related responsibilities.
If additional monies become available — and if the need is found to be there — the health board could always revisit that vital records position later.