City Manager Zach Walker announced the news Wednesday and said the department’s functions would be transferred to other city departments.
Independence is facing a projected $3 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year. Walker said the move would save about $375,000 a year for the city’s general fund.
“This is certainly not a pleasant move, but it’s one that allows us to be innovative, to reduce our overhead associated with that operation, but still provide the core basic services associated with the health department,” Walker said.
Health inspections of restaurants, hotels and daycare centers will be handled by other departments, as will animal control services, Walker said.
Other services, including grant-funded programs such as immunizations, maternal wellness and smoking cessation, will be farmed out, although to what other departments has yet to be determined.
“We want to be able to engage a wide array of stakeholders and community partners to visit about the different grant-funded services that we provide and make that determination about where those services can or should land,” Walker said.
He added that if it’s determined that some services are duplicative, the city would consider forgoing those programs, “but there’s still a lot of determinations to be made here.”
The health department, which has been around since 1963, employed 35 people, 13 of whom received termination notices on Wednesday. Another 12 will continue with other city departments – seven handling health inspections and five handling animal control. The remaining 10 positions, Walker said, were associated with the grant-funded programs.
Other than Kansas City, Independence is the only city in Jackson County with its own standalone health department. The county’s remaining cities come under the umbrella of the Jackson County Health Department, which could assume some of the functions of the Independence department. Walker said he plans to speak to Jackson County officials about that in coming months.
The Jackson County Health Department is managed by Truman Medical Centers. Leslie Carto, a spokeswoman for both, said they view the changes in Independence “as an opportunity to collaborate to improve the health of the community.”
“Our goal, as always, is to ensure that everyone in Eastern Jackson County has access to public health education and initiatives,” Carto said.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.