Ford-Iroquois health board: Expenses justified

WATSEKA — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department contends that expenses being reviewed by Iroquois County's auditor at the request of the Iroquois County Board chairman were justified.

"Although we appreciate Mr. (Rod) Copas' enthusiasm for learning the inner workings of the FIPHD, we wish it was more informed and constructive in a positive manner," a prepared statement from the Ford-Iroquois Board of Health said Monday.

"If all the time, money and effort being spent in endless questions and audits could be redirected into our FIPHD programs that have measurable outcomes, we might be able to make even more progress in our communities' health."

Copas said last week that he asked the county's auditor to review specific financial transactions of the bi-county health department after he reviewed the two years' worth of agency bills.

Copas said that among the bills he came across were charges totaling more than $1,000 for floral arrangements, an estimated 50 to 60 checks written to various restaurants like Subway and Monical's Pizza, a $500 expense for gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods, and charges for iTunes and tackle boxes for fishing. There were also charges from Casey's General Store, Walmart and Durst Cycle in Champaign, Copas said.

"We just question the validity of spending tax dollars for those purposes," Copas said.

"Mr. Copas lists many concerns about particular checks written, which is fair," the board of health said. "In fact, this is the diligent process we go through at each of our quarterly (board of health) meetings.

"This is where we learn that Walmart credit cards are utilized to buy new car seats on the IDOT (Illinois Department of Transportation) program; Casey's gift cards are utilized by the Eastern Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging for clients receiving services through GAP funds; Dick's Sporting Goods gift cards were purchased by Humana insurance rebate funds for employee wellness; Subway and Monical's lunches for volunteers (not employees) are stipulated by the Elder Abuse Grant.

"As anyone in government would know, each grant rewarded for programs and services comes with very particular stipulations on expenditures, and we're grateful the FIPHD keeps such accurate records.

"We realize someone outside the field of community health, wellness and environmental health may see some of these expenses as trivial ... but to the young mother putting her infant in a car seat from Walmart, or to the elder who now has a grant-supported means of transportation from Durst Cycle, we can assure you these charges are not trivial."

Regarding the more than $1,000 paid for floral arrangements, the board of health said: "We're pleased to see the costs have not exceeded this amount," considering "the sheer number of program-marketing door prizes, raffle baskets and even arrangements for colleagues dealing with tragic events (which are often reimbursed by employee donations)."

Copas also has raised into question a $30 check made out to the son of an employee of the health department. The check has "money" written in the memo line, Copas said.

But the board of health responded: "If Mr. Copas would look again at the personal check stating 'money' in the memo line, he may see that it actually says 'mowing.'"

The board of health also responded to Copas' concerns about its decision to hire CMS Renewables, Collinsville, to install solar panels on the health department's offices in Watseka and Paxton. Copas said sources within the health department told him that the company is owned by the husband of Julie Clark, the health department's spokeswoman and Freedom of Information Act officer. The project cost a total of $130,000, Copas said.

"Yes, the solar panel was quite expensive, and there are equally as many cynics as proponents of 'green energy' sources. However, this openly bidded project was installed in a budget-neutral manner by utilizing grant monies and a carefully selected financing package," the board of health said.

The board of health added that "budget-neutral" means "no significant additional cost above average estimated electricity costs.

"The suggestion that adding solar energy cost the taxpayers of Ford and Iroquois counties an additional $130,000 is simply not true," the board of health said.

Copas also raised concern about whether the eight-member board of health has been reviewing or questioning bills as it should. Copas said the minutes of the health board's meeting from May 17, 2010, show that the board voted unanimously to approve the payment of all bills from October 2009 through April 2010 — totaling "about $1.4 to $1.6 million" — but "there's no way they could have reviewed all of the claims at that meeting."

"Mr. Copas will have a better understanding of this process if and when he attends future board of health (BOH) meetings. The paying of claims is something we take very seriously, which is why copies for review are sent to BOH members ahead of the meeting for review," the board of health said. "In addition, the president of the BOH signs the claims as they come in, and contacts (health department Administrator Doug) Corbett directly with any questions as they arise.

"Mr. Copas' concern regarding the number of months is noted, but not unexpected when we meet quarterly, rather than monthly, and do not meet in January if weather does not permit. It's hard to imagine that we would go page by page through the claims, but we can assure you we do. As he would know, if he had attended a regularly scheduled meeting."

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