Pickerington City Council will wait at least until next month to determine if the city will remain a member of the Fairfield County Combined General Health District in 2010.

Pickerington City Council will wait at least until next month to determine if the city will remain a member of the Fairfield County Combined General Health District in 2010.

Finance committee members said on Feb. 17 they need more information from the Fairfield County and Franklin County health departments before deciding which entity can best provide public health services to the city, its residents and businesses next year.

City officials hope to receive that information by March 4, when the finance committee meets again to review a proposal to sever ties with the health district.

"There still are a number of questions we should get answers on before we proceed with a decision," said Jeff Fix, council's president pro tempore and finance committee chair.

Last December, Pickerington notified the district of the city's intent to terminate its arrangement for receiving health services.

The move, city officials said, was financially driven. They noted anticipated 2010 costs to the combined health district would be approximately $90,000, while the Franklin County Health Department could offer many of the same services for $82,840.

On Feb. 17, Fairfield County health commissioner Frank Hirsch told council members his group likely could match many of Franklin County's terms and programs. But citing the current economy, as well as the health district's present financial struggles, he said, "It would be irresponsible and unfair to the other political subdivisions remaining in the (health district) merger to alter our current fee structure solely to accommodate Pickerington."

Hirsch said the 2002 agreement that merged the Fairfield County and Lancaster health departments to represent all cities, townships and villages in the county is set to expire at the end of 2010. He requested that Pickerington remain in the group during its final year in order to influence the structure and details of a renewed contract.

Several council members remain undecided. Councilwoman Tricia Sanders said the cash-strapped city must save money where it can, but she would favor remaining part of the Fairfield County Combined General Health District through 2010.

Councilman Keith Smith also said he prefers remaining affiliated with the Fairfield County group.

"To me (the approximately $8,000 in savings) is not enough to break governmental relationships and attachments to Fairfield County because we are 99 percent in Fairfield County," he said.

Some council members and Mayor Mitch O'Brien are unsatisfied with Pickerington's representation on the Fairfield County Health Department's board of trustees and district advisory council. They also think funding from various cities, townships and villages in the health district should be based on a per capita charge, as opposed to the current system, which is based on county-assessed property values in the respective communities.

Under Franklin County's proposal, Pickerington would pay $5.85 per capita.

Hirsch said the funding component could be renegotiated in the next contract agreement, and agreed Pickerington should have a louder voice in the health district. However, he noted some of the cost savings proposed by Franklin County could be offset because the city would have to provide its own health-related legal services or contract separately for them with Franklin County.

Additionally, Hirsch said, Franklin County, unlike Fairfield County, doesn't have its own programs to respond to outbreaks of communicable and sexually transmitted disease. Those programs, he said, are contracted through the Columbus Board of Health and aren't mentioned in the potential arrangement between the city and Franklin County.

"The litigation cost is something that concerns me," said Linda Fersch, Pickerington's finance director. "Also the (tuberculosis) and communicable diseases, that would probably be an incurred cost."

If Pickerington opts out of the partnership, Hirsch has said the combined health district would lose about $150,000 next year. In addition to Pickerington's anticipated $90,000 funding allocation, the health district would lose about $60,000 in restaurant, plumbing and swimming pool inspections conducted in Pickerington.

Hirsch said such a move also would force the elimination of at least two full-time staff positions.