By Patricia Bogumil

Editor

Public health services for eight west-end communities now served by Western Racine County Health Department won’t be offered in 2015 through a newly created Racine County Health Commission ­– a proposal that drew mixed reviews when floated a month ago.

Instead, Central Racine County Health Department, based in Franksville, will likely accept all eight of Western Racine’s clients into the Central Racine program – assuming all the “I”s are dotted and “T”s crossed on the legal paperwork needed to make the switch.

The idea of Central Racine expanding to include Western Racine’s clients was discussed May 22 at a joint meeting of local and county officials.

It was noted during the meeting that there just hasn’t been enough time to put together a new county-run operation for 2015, explained Waterford Town Chairman Tom Hincz.

In the plan now being moved forward, the eight Western Racine communities would contract with Central Racine for Level 2 public health services in 2015. The services include immunizations, blood pressure checks, communicable disease control, radon/well water testing, and others.

“The key is there will be no interruption of service, and the services will be provided at the same level as we have now and at about the same cost,” said Waterford Village President Tom Roanhouse.

At this point, a contractual arrangement (likely a two-year contract) is easier to do than trying to set up a whole governing body, Roanhouse explained.

“A two-year contract gives everybody two years to figure out how to go forward if we want to change,” he said.

Racine County Executive Jim Ladwig said the new proposal offers the municipalities greater flexibility and more input, which is what they’ve been seeking.

“I’ve said all along that the county does not have to be in charge, but we were willing to step up and be in charge if that was the municipalities’ desire,” Ladwig said.

“Ultimately, it’s all about serving our constituents and citizens,” he said.

If the municipalities are interested in again proposing a county-run service, that is a possibility that can be explored in the future, Ladwig said.

“This is really about providing the services people need in the most cost-effective and efficient manner, and I think that can be accomplished in this (proposed contractual) system,” he added.

Western Racine announced in April that it will cease operations Dec. 31, 2014. That has left its eight client communities scrambling for a replacement by Jan. 1.

For more than 20 years, Western Racine has served the City of Burlington; towns of Burlington, Dover, Norway, Yorkville and Raymond; and villages of Waterford and Rochester.

The Town of Waterford and Village of Union Grove dropped Western Racine in favor of Central Racine in 2013. Their contracts with Central Racine run through 2015.

Last month, Hincz voiced dismay at the prospect of being forced to use new county public health services in 2015 ­– an idea that would have replaced both Central Racine and Western Racine departments with a newly created county commission.

Both Hincz and Union Grove Village Board President Mike Aimone have praised Central Racine for the state-mandated services it provides to residents and the community, citing lower costs, additional services and better accountability than offered by Western Racine.

Burlington Mayor Bob Miller, though, expressed skepticism about the long-term value of switching to Central Racine.

“It was not the program I was hoping for, but it’s the only game in town,” said Miller, who has been one of those championing the idea of a county-run program.

“I’m going to keep pushing for a countywide health system sometime down the road,” Miller said.

He explained that a countywide program would put the entire county on one program, as opposed to different communities using different programs, and likely be more cost-effective.

Staff writer Jennifer Eisenbart contributed to this article.