LOCKPORT – As enrollment in state-mandated early intervention and preschool special education programs continues to grow, so does the Niagara County Health Department budget despite reductions in the work force.
The proposed 2015 budget, presented to the Board of Health last week, showed an increase of $900,000 in those two early childhood programs for children with developmental delays. The department’s total budget proposed an increase of $628,000, or 2.6 percent, to a total of $24.4 million.
Much of that is covered by state aid or various grants. The net county cost for the Health Department is proposed to be $10.1 million, a $400,000 increase.
Stacy Lampman, supervisor for children with special needs, said there are about 500 children in early intervention, a program that covered developmentally delayed children from birth to age 2, and 1,000 to 1,100 in preschool special education for ages 3 to 5.
Since 2001, the number of Niagara County children in center-based programs has risen an average of 11 percent a year.
The cost of early intervention actually is going down, as the state has taken over as the primary payer for services offered by contract agencies. But that’s not true for preschool special education, which is to cost $12.7 million next year while yielding $8.6 million in state reimbursements.
“Preschool takes up more and more of our budget every year,” Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said.
Two major cuts are to the grant-funded Healthy Neighborhoods and Cancer Services programs. The county lost its $181,000 in grant funding for Healthy Neighborhoods this year, while Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center announced Thursday it is taking over the cancer program, for which the county received a $244,000 state grant a year ago.
The state Health Department chose Memorial to oversee the delivery of breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings and diagnostic services to uninsured and underinsured residents. Stapleton said the county was willing to yield the program to an outside entity like Memorial. “They have a great track record,” he said.
The cancer program will continue to be offered countywide, with the medical center relying on a partner network it has built through its Niagara Health Home program and its 10 health insurance navigator sites set up to administer federal Affordable Care Act registrations.
Stapleton said he is requesting that a new health educator job be added to the budget, to replace the one lost in the grant denial earlier this year and carry out some of the same functions.
“We can’t do everything we did before,” Stapleton said. “We have to make tough decisions.”
He said he would like the county to continue to have a worker who can talk to schoolchildren, especially in Niagara Falls.
“We like the ability to go into the schools, the grammar schools, and talk about health,” Stapleton said. “We know with the childhood obesity epidemic, it’s money well spent.”
He also would like to use the new employee to relaunch a partnership that the Healthy Neighborhoods Program had with the Niagara Falls Fire Department to deliver free smoke alarms to needy residents.
The new job, if approved by the County Legislature, would cost $56,817, counting benefits; but state aid would cover $14,628, which is 36 percent of the salary.
County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz proposed a 1.5 percent pay raise for all flat-salaried county employees, but the Health Department is requesting 4 percent increases.