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Putnam health department reduces its debt

By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

WINFIELD – The Putnam County Health Department has reduced its debt to about one-fourth the amount it amassed during its financial collapse last year.

The county’s health board approved paying roughly $120,000 in bills Thursday, dropping the department’s obligations below $100,000.

The department generated more than $400,000 in debt in fiscal year 2012-13. About a week before that fiscal year ended, the health board voted to lay off the department’s entire staff and entered into a contract on July 1, 2013, for Kanawha-Charleston Health Department employees to provide services in Putnam.

The Putnam department’s financial problems came partly from a costly, and unsuccessful, legal battle with a former employee over her firing.

On Thursday, the health board agreed to pay about $84,000 for past-due rent on its former location and $21,000 to vaccine companies for medical supplies, said Andy Skidmore, a county commissioner who also serves on the health board. The board also approved paying the state auditor’s office about $12,000 for its past audit work for the department. The department actually owes auditors more than $15,000, but it has applied for partial debt forgiveness.

The department also forked over $2,000 this month as part of an ongoing payment plan on $10,000 in taxes it owes the federal Internal Revenue Service.

Skidmore said the $84,000 rent payment was the last due to Gary Young, owner of the Teays Valley Corporate Center in Scott Depot where the department was located before it moved in September into a lower-rent space near the old courthouse in Winfield. The department had to pay Young a total of more than $160,000 on a multi-year lease it entered with him in 2010 – even though state law bars public county agencies like it from entering into leases lasting over a year.

All the payments Thursday came out of the $125,000 the county commission budgeted this year to pay down the department’s debt, Skidmore said. The department still owes nearly $13,000 to state agencies, and must repay an extra $65,000 the county commission loaned it.

Also Thursday, sanitarian Keith Lyons provided the board a document showing that in the past fiscal year, the Putnam department did 1,590 inspections, including hot tubs, child care centers and hotels. The largest portion – about 600 – was for food service locations. Lyons has said the department was only doing about a third of that amount annually before it folded and Kanawha-Charleston employees like himself stepped in.

“We’ve seen increased services,” Skidmore said after positive reports Thursday from department employees. “The debt has not affected the services.”

Lyons added that residents should be able to look up restaurant inspects online by the end of this year.

Skidmore voted with other board members in June to extend the contract for Kanawha-Charleston Health Department employees to provide services in Putnam for another year, and the Putnam department is paying all of its non-county commission funding – about $700,000 derived from state money, service fees and grants – for this aid, officials have said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.


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