The Fishers City Council voted to create its own health department Friday and redirect the half-million dollars it normally gives Hamilton County each year for localized health services.
Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness pitched a multi-part pandemic recovery plan Thursday that included the establishment of a city health department that will offer services tailored to the needs of Fishers residents and businesses dealing with COVID-19.
Jocelyn Vare was the lone city council member to vote against the switch during Friday’s virtual meeting. She asked for a delay on the vote to consider whether the action would be redundant or have a negative impact on county operations.
“This isn’t about what the county health department has done in the past, or not done,” Fadness said. “We now find ourselves in a situation where public health has to be integrated at a local level. Now is not the time for task forces or committees or capability studies.”
The change in tax revenue disbursement won’t affect the Hamilton County Health Department’s budget this year.
In a email to IBJ, Hamilton County Health Department Administrator Barry McNulty said county officials only learned about the mayor’s plan a few hours before Fadness announced it on Thursday.
“We are unaware how their health department will operate or how it will interact with the county’s health department,” McNulty’s statement read. “This is new territory. At the moment, our top concern is containing the COVID-19 virus and tracking its progress through Hamilton County.”
Specifically, Fadness and other members of the city’s emergency incident response team identified free COVID-19 testing for residents as a function of the new health department. During the meeting, the council unanimously voted to fund the department’s endeavors with $2 million.
The switch from county to city services will not increase taxes and there will not be a duplication of services, Fadness said. He said the city’s health department could still contract with the county when prudent, including for help with matters related to septic tanks and wells, but the city might now be in a position to actually reduce a current overlap in city and county inspections.
“Any time you blaze a trail, you’re going to have some people that dissent or want something different, but it’s imperative for us to act now,” Council member Todd Zimmerman said.