GVL/ Aida Dennis
GVL/ Aida Dennis

Community stands with Ottawa County Department of Public Health

The saga of local politics continues in Ottawa County as community members continue to disagree about cuts to the Ottawa County Health Department (OCHD) budget. Proposed by County Administrator John Gibbs and County Board Chair Joe Moss three weeks ago, the county is attempting to slash the health department budget by nearly $4 million. 

The county’s top Health Officer Adeline Hambley has since claimed that the reduction would force the Health Department to close their doors in a matter of weeks. Moss and Gibbs have refuted such statements to be “patently false” and the matter of the budget has since been turned over to Ottawa County Fiscal Services as of Aug. 30. 

Municipal representatives returned to the ongoing debate regarding the OCHD’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year following closure for the holiday weekend. Tensions ran high during the Finance and Administration Committee meeting Tuesday Sept. 5 as the subject of public health financing remained at the top of the docket for yet another county meeting. 

In an unprecedented motion, Finance Committee Chair Gretchen Cosby asked for Hambley to be placed under oath during the discussion, following “fear-mongering” accusations from other county commissioners. 

“I would like to highlight the timeline of all this because by no means in the last two weeks has any budget been finalized, and we still don’t have one,”  Moss said to Hambley.

“That’s good to hear because it has not felt nor seemed like a discussion until this point,” replied Hambley. 

Gibbs shared with fellow county commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting that the general fund allocation contribution has since increased to approximately $4.35 million. While the value is certainly an increase from the previous contribution of $2.5 million, it is possible that health department programs would still see cuts. 

In a rare move for a public official, Hambley addressed commissioners during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting. 

“Today’s version of the budget also reduces the ‘Miles of Smiles’ dental program for uninsured children. And in some instances, you’re literally taking services out of the mouths of children with these actions,” Hambley said.

Hambley said even with the increased general fund allocation, 13 of 16 public health programs would still experience decreased budgets, some being cut by nearly half.  Gibbs rebutted the 2024 budget would be a 53 percent increase from the 2019. 

The COVID pandemic is over, and we want to make sure that’s reflected in what our budget looks like,” Gibbs said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Hundreds of community members rallied around embattled health department employees the following day as the group left work, chanting “we support you.” The crowd packed the front lawn of the James Street OCHD office located Holland, Mich. as passersby honked in support, many carrying signs with expressions in favor of the Health Department. 

“It (the rally) came together very quickly over the last week, after the discussion between the Health Department and the county broke down as far as next year’s budget. It is really important to reinstate or reinforce the notion that democracy is of the people and we do hear often coming out of the meetings that they are there for the people,”  said rally attendee Christian Kleinjans. “These are the people that are very concerned about what could be coming out of the next fiscal year with the budget. The fiscal gymnastics that have gone behind the attempts to sort of justify the cuts don’t pan out if you’ve taken econ 101, and we feel that is not fiscally responsible and it’s not ethically responsible.”

Attendees at the rally also collected signatures in favor of the effort to recall county representatives in association with the far right group Ottawa Impact. The rally was organized by Ottawa Integrity PAC, Zeeland Area Action Council and Progressive Lakeshore. 

Speaker at the event and local ER Physician Rob Davidson, urged attendees to take their grievances with Ottawa Impact to the voting polls during his declaration.  

“If that person (a candidate) comes out and they are talking about good governance and the good use of county dollars and supporting public health and that person can take out someone like Joe Moss, can take out someone like Gretchen Cosby,” Davidson said. 

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