04/16/07 — Duplin commissioners discuss issues with state legislators

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Duplin commissioners discuss issues with state legislators

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 16, 2007 1:50 PM

KENANSVILLE -- With the North Carolina General Assembly about two months into its session, the Duplin County Board of Commissioners took advantage of visits by state Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, and Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, to outline their concerns and highlight their requests.

Topping their list -- as always -- was Medicaid and the possibility of the state taking over the county's share of the burden.

This year, Duplin County is expected to pay at least $3.3 million in Medicaid expenses. For the 2007-08 fiscal year, the county Department of Social Services is planning to ask for about $3.8 million.

The key to real relief, though, commissioner Zettie Williams said, is for the state to take away some or all of the Medicaid burden without exchanging it for other costs.

"We need Medicaid relief, but don't give us another expense," she said. "Don't swap one thing for another and send us further in debt."

It's a goal that Tucker said he shares, but he doesn't know what might be done.

"I will work real hard for the state to pay all of that," he said. "I do not think the county should be responsible for that."

Albertson said counties shouldn't be surprised if the state looks for some method of compensation if it takes on any more of the Medicaid burden. He also noted that contrary to popular belief, North Carolina is not the only state that relies on counties to pay a portion of the expenses. It does, however, place the largest burden on the localities.

The commissioners also voiced their opposition to proposed changes in the lottery distribution formula that would take money away from school construction and away from low-wealth districts.

Both Tucker and Albertson pledged to fight any such changes.

"I will vote to do away with the lottery before I vote to change the distribution," Tucker said, explaining that the distribution formula was the only reason he voted for the lottery in the first place. "I will fight that all day long."

Albertson, though, does not think the matter will come up this session.

Another issue weighing heavily on the commissioners' minds was the county's drainage problem and what the state could do to help, either by allowing the Department of Transportation more leeway to clean ditches or by providing more money for the counties to do the work themselves.

"It really is a problem," commissioner Harold Raynor said. "If the drainage situation could be addressed, I think you'd find some happy troopers in this county."

It is, however, a problem that both Tucker and Albertson said there is little they do about in the General Assembly. Any solution likely will have to come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The commissioners also lobbied for the county to be allowed to levy land transfer and impact fees like other counties, as well as the ability to garnish wages to collect unpaid debts from other county fees.

"We would love to have the same options to run Duplin County as other counties have," commission chairman David Fussell said.