In a move that Black Hawk County Supervisor Chris Schwartz called “irresponsible.” The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to cut funds for a county epidemiologist position. Tom Little, Dan Trelka and Craig White voted to cut funding for the position, while Linda Laylin and Schwartz voted against defunding the role for next fiscal year, that starts July 1, 2021.

In an article reported by the WCF Courier, Black Hawk County Health Department Director Dr. Nafissa Cisse-Egbuonye said she does not understand the rationale for the cut, especially during a pandemic. Pointing out that the position studies more than just COVID-19, but also influenza, food-borne illnesses, pneumonia, along with many other diseases.

The WCF Courier article also mentions that according to the County Health Rankings website:

"Black Hawk County ranks worse than 71 of Iowa’s 99 counties for health outcomes, including life span. It ranks worse than 93 of Iowa’s 99 counties for health behaviors, which includes smoking, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infections, obesity and more."

The move will cut nearly $99,000 from the health department budget which amounts to a 0.2% decrease in the overall tax rate, however, Schwartz noted in the meeting, that "it would (only) save about 90 cents (annually) for homeowners with homes valued at $100,000".  Little pointed out that the county effectively already has one epidemiologist, the Disease Surveillance and Investigation Manager, Joshua Pikora holds the same qualifications.

Black Hawk County Health Board chair, the Rev. Mary Robinson, mentioned during the in-person and on-line meeting that the supervisors "certainly have the right to reduce funding for the role, but it's the responsibility of the Board of Health to decide how to spend budget money." 

Ultimately, the board does not have the authority to eliminate positions, but it can cut funding, which in essence, provides the same outcome.

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