Thursday, June 12, 2008
Bypass funding not likely this year
By SUE WATSON
County consultant Gary Anderson updated the board of supervisors June 2 on legislative matters, saying finding money to complete the paving of the Highway 4 bypass north of Holly Springs is not forthcoming.
The only infrastructure project dealt with during the special session last week - the toll highway project - did not include any amendments at the behest of the lieutenant governor, he said.
Some projects that passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate were still being mulled over, Anderson said.
“We are still watching them closely,” he said.
The $90 million deficit in the Medicaid bill was still under dispute at the Legislature last week with the House and Senate divided on how to raise the money.
Anderson explained that the governor wants to charge hospitals that carry Medicaid clients $125 per bed for any non-Medicaid clients to help close the Medicaid deficit.
“The issue is if you receive Medicaid patients in your hospital, then your hospital is affected by this,” Anderson said. “The hospital reimburses Medicaid and Medicaid uses the reimbursements to get federal Medicaid dollars.”
Anderson said Governor Haley Barbour calls the $125 it would assess non-Medicaid clients (insured or self pay) an assessment while others want to call it a tax.
“If you went to the hospital on your insurance plan and stayed overnight, that bed assessment will be charged to your insurance company,” Anderson said.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said the insurance companies will raise the premiums to pay for the assessment.
“The governor won’t pass a cigarette tax,” Bennett said.
Anderson said speaker McCoy remains “adamant about having some form of tax to help plug this $90 million hole.”
The Legislature is not in favor of using money from the “Rainy Day Fund” to pay for the Medicaid shortfall, he said.
Bennett asserted that his insurance premium increased after Katrina.
“The Medicaid issue is not easy to resolve,” Anderson said. “If it can be resolved, the House will say everything else can wait until next year. The House wants to take $90 million from the Rainy Day fund and then go home.”
Funding for the bypass then is not likely to be forthcoming this year, but Anderson recommended a meeting with MDOT Commissioner Bill Minor to see if there is any money hidden in the budget that could be used as leverage dollars for the project.
Anderson said another issue is nearly $2 million the Legislature is funding for public service announcements, most of it going to Supertalk of Mississippi, a conservative radio talk show owned by a person who supports Republican candidates.
Anderson said the House (Democratic majority) has dug in and wants the legislative bill supporting Supertalk to repeal after one year while the Senate (Republican majority) wants a five-year extension.
Monet Autry, justice court clerk, updated the supervisors on the reform bill for justice court going into effect July 1.
The bill requires judges to get more training and that they be paid on par with the salaries supervisors make.
The bill also requires more security when justice court is in session, Autry said.
And the jurisdiction of cases was increased by the bill from $2,500 to $3,500.
Autry said she expects justice court case load to increase by 50 percent because the cap limits on justice court was increased.
Another judge may be needed to handle the docket at justice court, she said, and justice court may have to add two more court dates a week.
“At this point, we are already booked to August,” she said.
The sheriff’s department will have to provide security as the constables will continue to serve as bailiffs.
Autry said justice court criminal case filing fees will have to be increased to make sure the county does not lose money with the upgrades at justice court. The civil filing fees will not change.
Supervisors expressed concern that the county did not budget for the extra security officer and for the increase in salaries of justice court judges.
Autry asked supervisors for a board order allowing the clerks to destroy files from year 2000 and backward to the early 1990s. She said the court was already running over with filing cabinets.
Chancery clerk Chuck Thomas requested an itemized list of old case files before they are destroyed for the record.
Autry explained that the state expunges the record of failure to appear or to pay fines when a case gets three years old so drivers can get their licenses reinstated in three years.
She said justice court, therefore, cannot collect fines that go beyond three years, if the state expunges the record.
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