The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Ottawa County officials slash Department of Public Health’s budget

Courtesy/ Live

The Ottawa County Department of Public Health finds itself in a mass of fiscal red tape as county administrators make significant cuts to the developing budget. Headed by Board Chairman Joe Moss and Administrator John Gibbs, the county’s general fund contribution to the health department is proposed to decrease by nearly $4 million. After considering other sources of funding, this will leave the department with a working budget of $3.8 million. 

Gibbs requested Health Officer Adeline Hambley to present an outline of spending for the upcoming fiscal year limited to $2.5 million general fund dollars by Thursday, Aug. 31. 

In the document, Hambley claims the health department would be forced to close its doors in a matter of weeks if it was to work within the proposed budget, even after maintaining only essential services. 

“Commissioner Moss’ proposal would slash (funding) from a $6.4 million total general fund contribution to a total of $2.5 million, a reduction of over 60 percent,” Hambley wrote to Gibbs, as reported by The Holland Sentinel. “This action brings the total operating budget for 2024 to $500,000 less than the 2009 budget, which was during the worst economic conditions the United States has experienced since the Great Depression.”

County representatives have refuted Hambley’s assertions made both to the media and in the aforementioned document, calling the claims “patently false” and “fear-mongering.” The county made its rebuttal through a document released on the official county website on Monday, Aug. 28. Although no particular individual was listed in accordance with the release, Gibbs and Moss were listed as media contacts. 

“In line with fiscal responsibility and making the most of taxpayer dollars, the County is requiring that the general fund contribution to (the Department of Public Health’s) budget return to average pre-COVID levels,” Ottawa County said in Monday’s release. “This is a process all American families and businesses are going through, and it will not result in the discontinuation of any mandated services, and especially not the closure of the Public Health Department.”

Hambley took to social media to communicate her opinions on the proposed budget cuts, making nearly two dozen posts before her access to the health department’s social media pages was disabled Monday afternoon according to ABC13.

Notably, Hambley is also involved in an ongoing lawsuit against the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners linked to the far-right organization Ottawa Impact. Hambley filed on the basis that such members have inappropriately interfered with her ability to do her job in order to appoint a more preferred candidate. 

“If the Commission moves forward with this level of budget-slashing, I believe it will be a clear act of unlawful retaliation against me for bringing a wrongful termination suit for attempting to remove me as the appointed Administrative Health Officer, and for the trial court’s decision to grant me judgment on that claim,” Hambley wrote on the department’s Facebook page prior to termination of her access. 

At the time of Hambley’s demotion, Director of Grand Valley State University’s Masters of Public Health Program director Ranelle Brew declined to comment for the Grand Valley Lanthorn on behalf of herself and other faculty members in the department. Brew stated it would not be professionally appropriate to comment on the conflict at the Health Department out of respect to their relationship with the program. 

The contention took a surprising turn on Wednesday, Aug. 30, as Hambley announced the Ottawa County Health Department would no longer be consulting on the budget matter. WoodTV reports that Ottawa County Fiscal Services will now be taking control of the creation of the new budget under the direction of Gibbs, despite Hambley’s alleged willingness to continue the conversation of such matters. 

Uncertainty for the future of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health may be concerning for some members of the GVSU community, specifically those impacted by low income who rely on the free services provided by the department. 

 Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Well-Being and Inclusion Kate Harmon said it is unclear what role the university will play in response to proposed changes. 

“Because it is so early, we don’t know yet,” Harmon said. “We are carefully monitoring the situation.” 

Harmon said GVSU still plans to continue its partnership with the health department in offering free STI testing for students for the foreseeable future.

More to Discover