There will be some changes made in future Ocean County Health Department budgets to show spending on capital projects after officials confirmed a claim by Michele Rosen of Waretown that $11.8 million in such spending was not included in the $32.9 million budget aired Wednesday morning.
"The public doesn’t have any idea’’ that the account for building renovations and other capital projects existed, based on the budget, Rosen charged after Michael Holt of the accounting firm of Holman and Frenia confirmed the existence of the account.
Rosen, a Democratic candidate for the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said the fund has been tapped to renovate a building leased by the Board of Health from the Beth Medrash Govoha rabbinical school in Lakewood, to buy 30 laptop computers, and will be tapped to renovate bathrooms and an elevator in the Health Department building on Sunset Avenue that is leased from Ocean County.
"Where is that in the budget?’’ Rosen asked.
Holt said the board was not required to present its budget the way Ocean County does after Rosen pointed out a detailed plan for projects in the county’s budget.
Finally Robert Singer, a board member and state senator from Lakewood, agreed that the capital account should be shown in future budgets.
"No one’s trying to hide anything,’’ Singer said. He said the capital budget is funded from the board’s surplus, and that source of money should be shown in future budgets, too.
The budget was prepared the way it has been prepared for years, he said, agreeing that more information should be provided.
He said the Lakewood facility is a "tremendous success,’’ replacing cramped quarters in the county’s Northern Resource Center in Lakewood. He said the search for more space located other landlords with enough building space, but without adequate parking. Other landlords did not want to rent to the health board, he explained.
The rabbinical college facility was renovated at a cost to the board of $125,000 and is attracting so many people who need Health Department services that it is becoming overcrowded, too.
Professionals have been hired to design the renovations for the headquarters building, but those plans are not complete, according to board chairman Jack Mallon.
Singer said handicapped access to bathrooms is among the key concerns in a building that was built in 1974.
Public Health Coordinator Daniel Regenye said the 30 laptop computers will be distributed to inspectors who will be able to do their reports in the field and check the results of earlier inspections at the same locations remotely.
That is part of the $396,500 increase in the board’s spending for programming and computer support in the new budget. That increases the total to $690,000. Rosen continued to challenge the decision by the Board to hire Specialty Systems of Route 37 West, Toms River, as its computer consultant under the terms of the firm’s contract with Ocean County.
Board attorney Jack Sahradnik revealed that a previous consultant did not complete the work called for in a preliminary contract. He said the county sued the company, got a judgment it is in the process of collecting, and then hired Specialty Systems.
Rosen repeated her charge that the new firm’s contract called for paying one employee $125-an-hour, when records showed he was paid $145-an-hour.
Sahradnik said that was detected by the Board’s Finance Office and payments stopped until Specialty Systems documented the employee’s promotion to quality for the higher hourly wage.
Singer said the Board oversees the largest county health operation in the state, but conceded: "We have to do a better job telling our story. It’s a great story.’’
"No one is sure that the IT (information technology) line items is,’’ Singer added, defending the decision to use the county’s consultant in an effort to save money.
He said the board has to make the budget "more user friendly for the public.’’
Board members voted unanimously to approve the spending plan that does not show the $11.8 million capital account, passing it on to the county’s freeholders for their approval.
The $32.9 budget calls on taxpayers to spend $10.7 million to support it, but maintains the current 1.2 cents per $100 health tax rate. That translates into an annual tax bill of $36 for the owner of a $300,000 house.
The operating expenses total $26 million, up $485,259. The Board anticipates receiving $6.9 million in state and federal grants and spending a like amount to provide the services covered by those grants.
The largest increase in the budget, $510,000, is for insurance and benefits for employees, which rose to $6.8 million.