Mahoning County’s health department may be forced to reduce inspections of landfills and water wells around the landfills because of a revenue cut and unbudgeted expenses of the county’s Solid Waste Management District.
Because of a $600,000 shortfall, SWMD has said the health department will have to take a 50 percent cut in its allocation, Patricia Sweeney, commissioner of the Mahoning County District Board of Health, said at its meeting Wednesday.
The health department’s 2014 allocation is around $290,000.
Sweeney said Lou Vega, director of the SWMD and the county’s recycling division, better known as The Green Team, told her the unanticipated closing of Central Waste landfill in Smith Township last year is the primary reason for the shortfall.
But that is not the only reason. Sweeney said Vega also cited build-up costs at the SWMD’s Oakhill Renaissance Place headquarters owed the county, as well as some rents that had not been paid and were not reflected in the 2013 budget passed by the solid waste district’s policy committee.
Sweeney, a policy committee member, said the contentious budget was approved based on the information available at the time.
She praised the newly appointed Vega for his efforts and openness.
She said, however, that though she believes that everybody who receives funding through the SWMD is being asked to take a 50 percent allocation cut, she said the county health department is standing firm that its mission remain a priority for the SWMD.
The department’s funding ought to be the first obligation of SWMD, said David Mannion, Smith Township trustee and president of the health department’s district advisory council.
It is the council’s position that the first money should be spent to make sure landfills are safely operated and maintained, not recycling, Mannion said.
At this point, the allocation reduction is viewed as temporary, contingent upon future revenue, Sweeney said.
But it will change the level of services in fewer inspections, she added.
“We will be strategic about making changes that will create the least impact possible on public health and the people who live around the landfills,” Sweeney said. “I respect the fact that if the budget changes, it changes. But I would have difficulty if the pain is not fairly shared. I don’t want to jeopardize the peoples’ health,” she said.