After months of debate, the city of Pickerington is poised to sever ties with Fairfield County and contract for outside health services from Franklin County in 2010.

After months of debate, the city of Pickerington is poised to sever ties with Fairfield County and contract for outside health services from Franklin County in 2010.

Pickerington City Council on July 21 heard the first reading of legislation authorizing the city to receive public health services and education programming in 2010 from the Franklin County Health Department.

Barring a shift in course, the move is expected to dissolve a seven-year partnership between the city and the Fairfield County Health Department, which formed when Pickerington, Lancaster and an advisory council of representatives of municipalities throughout Fairfield County agreed to merge the Fairfield and Lancaster health departments.

The decision also follows unsuccessful attempts by the city to secure approval of a proposed contract to continue to receive services from the Fairfield County Health Department next year.

In April, Pickerington City Council's finance committee voted 4-3 to approve a one-year, $80,000 contract with Fairfield County. The proposal was sent the Fairfield County Health Department's district advisory committee (DAC), made up of representatives of all cities, townships and villages in the county, but the group has failed to convene a quorum of members to hold a vote on the matter.

The DAC is the same body that Pickerington Mayor Mitch O'Brien and some council members have accused of lacking adequate city representation and being uncooperative.

"We tried very, very hard for a very long time in working with the Fairfield County Board of Health to reach an agreement for more reasonable fees," said Jeff Fix, Pickerington City Council's president pro tempore. "Because they weren't able to (convene) a quorum, we were unable to reach a deal."

Fairfield County health commissioner Frank Hirsch said he thought his department had reached a deal with Pickerington, but found out "things went south quickly" recently.

"I was quite saddened and disappointed with their decision," Hirsch said. "I also think it's going to present some difficulties for Pickerington that may cost them additional money that no one has yet been able to predict: e.g., legal support.

"My counter-proposal was actually for a few thousand less dollars than Franklin County's estimate."

Under the contract with Franklin County, the city will pay $81,142.53 -- or $5.75 per capita -- for health services in 2010.

The amount is more than the proposed $80,000, $5-per-capita contract the city the negotiated in April with Hirsch for 2010 services. However, Pickerington city manager Tim Hansley said the contract with Franklin County will save the city more than $8,000 from what it is slated to spend with Fairfield County in 2009.

Cost savings were cited as the primary motivation last December when the city notified the Fairfield County Health Department of its intent to terminate the arrangement for receiving health services. At the time, Fairfield County was seeking approximately $90,000 to provide services to Pickerington next year.

Since then, various city council members have flip-flopped on the decision as Hirsch reduced the city's proposed 2010 health services fees. He also petitioned the city to remain in the county's combined general health district until the end of 2010, when the agreement that merged the county and Lancaster health departments is set to expire.

"I think if we do nothing to replace the revenue loss, it could mean a loss of around $150,000 to $200,000 and could mean the loss of one or two positions," Hirsch said. "However, we are working on ways to lessen the blow by finding additional revenue or cutting other expenses or services first.

"We already are at a minimal staffing level and it would be very difficult to lay off additional persons."

In the end, city council members said, the DAC's uncooperativeness sullied that plan.

"I had been in favor of maintaining ties and loyalty to Fairfield County, but I am completely exasperated and disappointed with the district advisory committee not being able to reach a quorum," Councilman Keith Smith said.

Council is expected to hear a second reading of the legislation to contract with Franklin County at its Aug. 4 meeting, and could adopt the ordinance by Aug. 18.

nellis@thisweeknews.com