Temporary agreement between city-county for CCHD management expiring; little movement on new agreement
The temporary agreement between the City of Great Falls and Cascade County for the management of the City-County Health Department is set to expire on June 30.
There’s been little progress between the city and county on developing a new agreement.
During the June 1 health board meeting, County Commissioner Joe Briggs said that so far, the proposals they’ve heard from the city are not acceptable to the county.
“From our standpoint, until the city is willing to talk about funding, they’re not going to be an agreement,” Briggs said.
The city funds $250,000 annually for CCHD and the county funds the rest, about $1.5 million, Briggs said.
“We cannot sustain that,” Brigg said.
He said that over the last few years, the county has pumped $450,000 of COVID money into CCHD and that funding source is gone now.
Mayor Bob Kelly, who serves as the city’s representative to the health board, said that city commissioners would be discussing it during their next meeting and he believed they were going to request that the county also consider the matter in a public meeting.
CCHD has been a joint city-county operation under a 1975 agreement that has not been updated since, nor do the entities follow all the provisions included in that agreement.
Briggs said that the county doesn’t have a legal responsibility to provide health services to the city.
“We’ve been covering the city for years and we simply do not have the resources any longer,” Briggs said.
The Legislature passed a law last year requiring that there be a designated governing body for local joint health departments and the city and the county have been discussing their plan for months.
Under the 2021 law, HB 121, provisions for local health boards were revised and include a new entity dubbed the ‘governing body’ with a key change that allows that body to review and potentially amend or rescind any public health orders issued by a local health board in response to a formal emergency or disaster declaration by the governor.
The law specifically stated, “it is a purpose of this chapter to address ongoing issues or conditions created during a declared state of emergency as a result of orders, directives or mandates issued by the governor as allowed under Title 10, chapter 3, for a state of emergency acting longer than seven days. It is not a purpose of this chapter to hinder, slow or remove non-emergency-related powers granted to a local board of health.”
In the case of joint city-county health boards, the new law states that the governing body will be “the entity identified as the governing body as established in the bylaws, interlocal agreement, or memorandum of understanding creating a city-county local board of health.”
City officials believe the new state law allows for a combined body, while the county has argued the law does not.
The city filed in District Court asking a judge to make that determination.
Jeff Hindoien, city attorney, told The Electric that there’s been no movement on that case yet, but neither party has filed for summary judgment so there’s nothing for the judge to rule on.
He said that the court has set a scheduling conference for June 22 for the city and county to discuss a briefing schedule if necessary.
On the June 7, the city commission will consider a new amendment to the 1975 agreement that would designate a governing body with two county commissioner and one city commissioner.
The city commission will also consider formally asking the county commissioners to take action to approve the same amendment.
If city commissioners approve those actions, the formal request will be sent to the county the following day for them to decide if they’ll take any action in response.
Hindoien said that “from a strictly legal perspective, there’s nothing about the new HB 121 requirements for the designation of a ‘governing body’ entity for a joint city-county board of health structure that has anything to do with how that structure is funded.