After months of debate, the city is inching toward retaining a Fairfield County agency for health services in 2010 -- provided a committee of that agency doesn't reject its plan.

After months of debate, the city is inching toward retaining a Fairfield County agency for health services in 2010 -- provided a committee of that agency doesn't reject its plan.

Pickerington City Council's finance committee voted 4-3 last week to approve a one-year contract to receive services next year from the Fairfield County Health Department and its combined health district.

If the measure is approved by council, the city officially would recant the announcement last December of its intentions to sever ties with the Fairfield County agency and take its business to the Franklin County Health Department.

However, before such a contract can be finalized, it must be approved by the Fairfield County Health Department's District Advisory Committee, made up of representatives of all cities, townships and villages in Fairfield County. It's the same committee some council members and Mayor Mitch O'Brien have accused of being uncooperative with Pickerington officials.

"If this is approved by us, it will be presented to the DAC," said Jeff Fix, council's president pro tempore and finance committee chair. "The DAC has a history recently of not convening with a quorum, and the DAC has a history of not always agreeing with us."

The Fairfield County Health Department's general health district was formed in January 2002 after the Fairfield County and Lancaster health departments merged to provide health services to all cities, townships and villages in Fairfield County.

Since December, Pickerington officials have been in talks to contract for health services with the Franklin County Health Department. The move was championed as a cost-cutting effort. The city this year is slated to contribute about $89,000 to the Fairfield County Health Department and the amount was expected to increase to approximately $90,000 in 2010, according to Fairfield County health commissioner Frank Hirsch. Franklin County health commissioner Susan Tilgner has said her agency can provide services in 2010 for approximately $82,840, or $5.85 per capita.

Under the proposed 2010 contract with Fairfield County, the city has negotiated for health services for $80,000, or $5 per capita.

"In my opinion, we're going to save $10,000 on this from what we would have budgeted," Fix said. "We're going to save $2,000 from what we would have spent with Franklin County for basically the same services."

Council members Cristie Hammond, Mike Sabatino and Brian Wisniewski opposed retaining Fairfield County. They argued that the city previously leaned toward contracting with the Franklin County Health Department, and said there's too much uncertainty surrounding the Fairfield County Health Department's financial sustainability.

Opponents also questioned how the agency's DAC will view the one-year contract proposal.

"I think it's very ill-advised to think the DAC is going to accept us back with open arms, or that they're even going to meet," Wisniewski said.

Sabatino added, "The unknown here is Fairfield County's ability to operate on a contractual basis. The known is Franklin County has illustrated that. They've been doing this for some time.

"Don't be fooled by a low-ball price for one year (from Fairfield County). They haven't even voted on it yet," he said.

As a condition of sticking with Fairfield County, council has proposed that the DAC must approve its contract with Pickerington by June 30. If that doesn't happen, the city would turn back to Franklin County.

nellis@thisweeknews.com