County rejects funding request
By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 3, 2014 1:47 PM
Wayne County commissioners, who in the past have questioned the federal Affordable Care Act, Tuesday morning used the law to help support their decision not to provide additional funding for Eastpointe.
The health care law provides a safety net for people who are in need of Eastpointe's mental health services, they said.
But they also were concerned as well about Eastpointe's fiscal policies and its pending merger with similar agencies that are responsible for managing, coordinating, facilitating and monitoring mental health and drug abuse services.
They said they were worried the county is facing major capital projects, including schools and a new jail, that will demand more county resources and cannot afford to take on any additional expenses. County Manager George Wood also cautioned that the state appears poised to take even more lottery revenues, which otherwise could be used for school construction.
Commissioners offered few comments, but agreed with Wood that if the health care act works as planned, it appeared everyone would be covered even if the county did not fund Eastpointe.
By a 5-2 vote, the board approved Wood's recommendation to reject Eastpointe's request for additional funding.
However, Commissioners Ed Cromartie and John Bell, the two Democrats on the board, argued there would be no safety net for people with mental health needs if Eastpointe wasn't funded.
Failure to provide funding for services for people with mental health needs will not save the county any money, Cromartie and Bell said.
The county will still have to pay because those people probably will end up in the jail, they said.
The other board members disagreed and again pointed to the Affordable Care Act as providing the safety net.
In making his recommendation, Wood said that while county employees received $500 bonuses in the new budget, Eastpointe gave 4 percent raises to its employees.
"It is hard for me to justify that kind of raise in today's economic climate," Wood said. "Another issue that I had addressed with (Eastpointe CEO) Mr. (Ken) Jones is that their fiscal year 2013 audit shows a policy of providing free medical insurance until age 65 for employees who retire with only five years of service."
Wood said Jones had assured him that policy ended this year for all future employees.
In 2009, Wayne County stopped a similar policy of awarding the benefit to employees with at least 25 years of service.
"A five-year threshold is a ridiculously expensive fringe benefit that this organization clearly could never afford," Wood said. "It is hard to justify giving more taxpayer money to an organization that is giving excessive raises and fringe benefits that our own employees and taxpayers do not get."
Eastpointe did not submit a budget request until after the county's 2014-15 budget was ready for a public hearing.
But at the public hearing Jones asked for $225,000 for a walk-in clinic at the Waynesborough Family Clinic; $100,000 for an integrated health care system with Goshen Medical Clinic; and $45,000 for the Family Drug Treatment Court.
Commissioners only approved $42,000 for the Family Drug Treatment Court.
Jones was at Tuesday's meeting, but did not address commissioners after agreeing that he had nothing new to add.
Wood said Jones makes the argument that under state law mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse are to be funded by both the state and counties. However, there is no statutory minimum requirement counties must meet, he pointed out.
Once the health care law is fully operational, it should "significantly reduce" the uninsured population, Wood said.
"That is the basis on which the Obama administration and Congress sold it to the public," he said.