01/03/07 — Medicaid expenses concern county

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Medicaid expenses concern county

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 3, 2007 2:01 PM

The chief goal of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners' new legislative liaison will be to convince state lawmakers to ease the Medicaid burden the county shares.

Commissioners designated Commissioner Atlas Price to represent the board in its dealings with the county's legislative delegation, which includes Sens. John Kerr and Fred Smith and Reps. Louis Pate, Larry Bell and newcomer Van Braxton.

Local officials have for years decried the portion of Medicaid that is required by law to come from local sources. North Carolina is the only state that requires county participation in paying for all Medicaid services.

In Wayne County, taxpayers will pay nearly $7.5 million for Medicaid this current fiscal year, an increase of about $500,000 over last year.

Some counties have had to increase property taxes because of the stiff increases in the Medicaid payment, Price said. Some pay more for Medicaid than they do for schools, he added.

Price said counties should not have to be part of the equation. Medicaid is a federal and state government responsibility, he said.

During this summer's state legislative session, the General Assembly had a $2.4 billion surplus that could have been used to provide Medicaid relief for counties. Although the state government provided a small amount of relief by capping Medicaid costs, Price said more will need to be done once the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 22.

"I think the momentum is going to have to come from the commissioners' association," he said, referring to the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. "They know more than anyone else how it affects the counties and the amount the counties have to pay."

The association voiced those concerns to legislators during last year's session, but Price said it made little impact on them.

"There was the hardest pressure put on the legislature by the association that I have ever seen, but (legislators) simply don't want to hear it," Price said.

If the Medicaid burden was lifted, even partially, he said, the commissioners would have more money to spend on other needs, such as school buildings, a new animal shelter and other public facilities that residents say are needed.

Another issue Price intends to bring up with legislators is the tax system. Counties depend mostly on property taxes. More of the burden needs to be shifted to sales taxes, Price said. Sales taxes spread the tax burden more evenly among the population, he said.

With the great increase in immigrants in recent years, the tax burden on property owners has increased, he added.

"The demands of county services has risen. If nothing is done about our illegal immigration problem, then the demands will continue to increase. Then, we'll have to use more of the taxpayer's money to cover these costs."

Almost 85 percent of the county's tax revenue is mandated by law for specific programs ordered by the state or federal governments, Price noted.