County Health District wants to add to current levy

Erin Hopkins

On May 2, the Portage County Health District hopes to add to its current levy, which has been in place since 1955.

The five-year, 0.4-mill additional levy will raise about $1 million annually and account for one-third of the district’s budget, said interim health commissioner DuWayne Porter.

“1955 was the last time we had a new or additional levy pass,” Porter said. “That levy is still in effect, but it is based on the price of homes in the 1950s.”

He said the current levy is also 0.4 mills, but because of property tax changes over the years, it only accounts for one-sixth of the budget and brings in a little more than $300,000 a year.

He said if it passes, the additional levy will ease some of the rise in the district’s service fees.

“We continually raise our fees,” he said. “We’re going to get to a point where they can’t go higher. We are only performing minimal services.”

If the levy passes, it will pay for improvement of health services, expansion of nursing services and the creation of new programs such as school blood-pressure screenings and health education services.

Kelly Engelhart, nursing director for the district, said she would like to hire more nurses and a health educator, who would work with those nurses.

“For example, a nurse can screen for something like obesity, and a health educator can talk to the public about nutrition and changes to make to fight that obesity,” she said.

Engelhart also wants to implement school health services.

“We don’t have any services in schools now,” she said. “We do coordinate with school nurses, but I’d like to do a school health program that involves the entire community.”

The Portage County Health District serves all of Portage County except for the cities of Ravenna and Kent. Porter said the additional levy will cost homeowners in the service area $1 a month for a $100,000 home, which is $0.65 more than what homeowners are currently paying.

He said if a taxpayer were to only get one immunization a year from the health district, he or she would already be saving money.

Porter said if the levy fails, the district will probably have to make “drastic cutbacks in 2008.”

“We can squeak by until 2007,” he said. “We cut $300,000 off the 2007 budget to meet our minimum requirements, but in 2008, we may have to make some changes.”

He added that if the levy fails, some staff may have to be laid off.

Debbie Medkeff, school nurse for Rootstown Local School District, said the levy “needs to pass.”

“We need the health department,” she said. “If the levy doesn’t pass, we won’t have their resources to fall back on. This affects all of us, because the health department helps all of us. They are a great backup and a great resource to school nurses. They have a school nurses meeting every month and provide us with information.”

Medkeff also said the health district plays an important role in providing immunizations because students cannot attend school without them.

“Students need those to be in school, and some people can’t afford them,” she said. “The health department provides the shots cheaper.”

Engelhart said the passage of the levy is important because the district has the responsibility to take care of everyone in the area, including those without health insurance.

“We need to take care of those without adequate health care coverage,” she said. “And we have to pay for that somehow.”

To learn more about the Portage County Health District, visit the Web site at

Contact public affairs reporter Erin Hopkins at [email protected].