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Holden gives state Department of Health money to hire bio-terrorism investigators

October 23, 2001
By: Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Despite the state's tight budget, Gov. Bob Holden gave the Missouri Department of Health a small chunk of money to hire eight new people to investigate bio-terrorism and disease reports around the state.

The money, $163,081, comes out of funds that were withheld from the agency in August to help the state deal with the budget crisis that developed in the slowing economy.

The department had withheld $6,227,890 after Holden requested all state agencies cut their budgets by as much as 18 percent.

On Friday, the agency asked the governor for part of those funds back so they could fill the eight new positions since the department has been inundated with concerned calls about bio-terrorism.

"If people feel like they have a real threat, certainly we're going to check that out but at the same time, it's been tough to deal with all the reports that have been coming in," said department spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.

Gonder added that the department has been receiving "a lot" of calls and that "lots of people are involved at all hours of the day."

Holden spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said the governor thought it would be "wise" to grant the department's request -- the first request the state has received to give an agency funds to investigate terrorism.

"These are vital positions [the department] feels need to be addressed," Nachtigal said.

Gonder said the positions are permanent and that the search for the new employees is already underway. She said the department plans to hire the workers within the next 30 days.

Not all the money will be used to pay for the new posts. About $30,000 will pay for better technology, including a mapping program that allows health department officials to target specific areas in the state.

Although Nachtigal stressed that the release of the money was necessary, he added that the state would not know how the decision, or the expensive new security measures at the Capitol and in state buildings, would affect the state's tight budget.

"We won't have a handle on what the costs are until November 1," he said.