Board plans to defund county health department

During the June 5 budget hearing County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger pulled what appeared to be a rabbit out of his hat, finding a way to add money for five patrol deputies for the Sheriff’s Office.
After lengthy debate that included whether or not to use forest dollars and limiting the amount added to reserves amongst others, Baertschiger made a proposition.
Baertschiger suggested paying for the five patrol positions using forest dollars, and then cut one temp position from the assessor’s office and one from the public health department.
When pressed upon the impact of this decision, Baertschiger stated that the assessor’s position was digitizing old documents and would not likely impact the office.
As for the health department, Baertschiger stated it isn’t that big of a deal. But in reality, the $162,500 deduction was 100% of Public Health Director MIchael Weber’s general fund request; in essence, defunding the health department of all general funds.
While most of public health is funded by grants, the county must show matching funds for some grants.
Other grants require meeting goals, and with fewer employees doing the work, this will impact meeting those goals, which will require the repayment of all or a portion of the monies received.
In turn, it also limits the money public health puts into the Internal Service Fund which provides money to other departments in the county such as the commissioner’s office and information technology.
According to Weber the $162,500 cut is 100% of the general fund money he requested, along with the six positions that were cut in order to get to the current funding request. This cut will have a cascading effect on grants and on public health’s ability to function.
According to county sources, Weber is also at the center of another controversy in the courthouse that has already seen one person lose their job.
An Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry complaint was filed by Weber over what sources say was for Weber being surveilled by members of the Board of County Commissioners. In the complaint, commissioner office staff Trish House was named as a witness to the complaint. The complaint is likely to be heard in August of this year.
House was released shortly after the complaint was discovered, due to the commissioners citing two affidavits stating House was rude on the phone. One affidavit was from an associate of both Baertschiger and John West. The other came from a resident from O’Brien who was a frequent flyer at the Weekly Business Sessions of the Board of Josephine County Commissioners and a vocal COVID denier.
In a text, Baertschiger wrote that Weber’s BOLI report had nothing to do with the decision to defund Weber’s department.
The BOLI complaint has yet to be heard by the state and is likely to be settled in August of 2024.