Portage County Health District to put levy on May ballot

By Mike Sever | Staff Writer Published:

The Portage County Health District is again asking voters to bring its financial support up to date, with a 0.4-mill, five-year replacement levy on the May 7 primary ballot.

The current levy, enacted in 1955, brings in about $200,000 a year. Replacing it would bring the levy up to today's property values and add $1,081,950 a year to the department's $2 million annual budget.

Portage County Health Commissioner DuWayne Porter said the board of health believed it was essential to bring the original levy up to modern property values.

If the replacement fails, the district might have to go for a new levy in addition to renewing the existing one. That could taxpayers more, Porter said.

"We will have to go for a renewal in November if we don't get the replacement this time because we absolutely cannot live without the current levy," Porter said.

Taxpayers in the district pay about $3 per $100,000 of assessed value on the current levy. The new levy would cost about $10 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Porter said the new revenues would allow the department to "replace the services that were lost and give us the ability to get accreditation through the state."

Porter said the department used to provide free blood pressure screenings to high school seniors.

"We used to catch quite a few kids with high blood pressure. We haven't done that for 15 years. How many kids went on without knowing they have dangerously high blood pressure?" he said.

Porter said he thinks a replacement levy would give the department a better negotiation with both Ravenna and Kent to provide services. Porter said the department has been living on grants for more than a decade, to make up for local levy revenue. Consolidation talks are ongoing, he said.

It would also give the department the chance to look for additional space. The department occupies space on the third floor of the Portage Administration Building in Ravenna, provided rent-free by state law. However, Porter said, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio is pushing to eliminate the free space and have health departments pay rent.

"If county commissioners can give us a deal, we would love it" and stay in the PCAB, Porter said.

After years of failing to pass a new or replacement levy, the district came nearer to success than ever before in November when another 0.4-mill, five-year replacement was defeated by 730 votes.

The issue won 9 of 16 jurisdictions voting on it.

The Portage County Combined General Health District covers Portage County except for the cities of Kent and Ravenna, which have their own health departments.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1125 or msever@recordpub.com

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