The State of Texas' proposed budget cuts could adversely affect counties, including Somervell, and put the squeeze on the county budget, County Judge Mike Ford said last week.
Speaking to the Glen Rose Lions Club on the “state of the county,” Ford ran down a long list of proposed state budge cuts — actual bills on the table at the Texas Legislature that could have a trickle-down impact — and talked about what is on the line for the county in its next budget.
Some of the cuts concern health care. That concerns the county since it pays for the operation of Glen Rose Medical Center.
“Cuts in Medicaid could lead to an increase in the use of hospital emergency rooms, the most expensive charity care,” Ford noted.
GRMC has been feeling the pinch from indigent and charity health care in recent years already.
Ford cited studies showing that uninsured — in which Texas leads other states — are more likely to rely on emergency rooms. Texas currently pays a reimbursement to health care providers to held cover the cost of caring for Medicaid clients; however, it is not mandatory for doctors to treat Medicaid patients, Ford said. Less than half of the doctors in Texas see Medicaid patients and cutting provider rates by an additional 10 percent will “likely lead to even fewer doctors treating these patients, leaving the ER as the primary care facility,” Ford said.
Reductions to mental health services could lead to mentally ill people ending up in jails rather than community-based care settings, he added. It costs $137 a day to care for a prisoner with such problems, while it costs about $12 in a community-based setting, Ford said.
Another proposal on the table calls for cutting indigent defense up to 15 percent.
“Texas counties are responsible for the expenses associated with appointed counsel for the indigent,” Ford told the Lions. “We have no choice but to provide attorneys if the defendant is determined to be indigent — even if they are an illegal alien. This is one of the major uncontrollable cost drivers in county budgets.”
In another proposal that could affect county jails, a potential 21 percent reduction in felony probations and a 100 percent in misdemeanor probations could leave the county with “few sentencing options” for those who break the law, “other than directly sentencing them to county jail or letting them go free with little or no oversight,” Ford said.
The state currently funds misdemeanor probation at a rate of 70 cents a day for 182 days, which Ford termed “a bargain.”
Zero funding has been proposed for lateral roads and continued education for law enforcement law officers, and a 56 percent reduction is possible from criminal justice grants.
Juror pay also would be cut 15 percent under some proposed legislation.
In the state's Parks & Wildlife Department, there could up to a 97 percent reduction for state parks, which could impact Dinosaur Valley State Park and others in the area.
“Although these are all only under consideration, it is likely that most of these will probably be passed in one form or another,” Ford said. “We still don't know what our ad valorem values will be, so it is difficult to predict how that part of the equation will pan out.
“It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the county budget is going to be a challenge,” Ford added.
The county plans to use the tough budget climate to look at how it delivers all these services, Ford said.
“It will definitely be a challenge,” he explained, “but it can also be a good thing.”
The County Commissioners Court is “intent upon retaining the services we presently provide, but there are some inventive solutions being tossed around at the moment,” the judge said. ?“We'll just have to see whether they are necessary and, if so, whether they are realistic.”
Above all, the county wants to make sure employees keep their jobs and that taxpayers continue to retain services “if at all possible,” Ford added.
WHERE YOUR COUNTY TAX DOLLARS GO
County Judge Mike Ford presented this list of county services to help taxpayers understand what their tax monies fund.
Roads and bridge maintenance — 148 miles paved, mowing right-of-ways
Public safety — 20 sworn officers in Sheriff's Office, 11 jail staff, six dispatch, 21 patrol vehicles, three other vehicles, boat, armored car
Constable's office — Two constables, two vehicles, one secretary shared with Texas Department of Public Safety, game warden
Court system — County court, two district courts, two justice of the peace courts, jury expenses, indigent requests for attorneys, adult and juvenile probation
Indigent medical care — Set aside 8 percent, rarely spend that amount, but indigent care numbers have doubled.
Issuing and recording documents — Public records, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, civil cases, probates, juvenile cases, criminal cases (thousands of documents) in both county and district courts.
Election and voter registration — 5,400 registered voters, two or three elections per year, certification of voting machines, etc. Last year the county created an elections administrator position.
Public health — Dr. Karen Burroughs currently serves as public health officer.
Vehicle registration — Currently more than 10,000 vehicles are registered in Somervell County; the office also issues license plates and registration stickers, titles and specialty plates.
Fire protection — 36 volunteer firemen, 13 pieces of equipment, over 1,000 calls per year
Emergency Medical Services — Three ambulances, 13 EMS volunteers, 17 employed paramedics and/or EMTs, 11 Explorers (local high school youth)
Operation and maintenance of parks — Mowing crew, buildings, playground equipment
County hospital — Major investment in facilities and equipment. "It's a tough business to be in, with a constant battle to supplement operations due to high expenses, high bad debt and rising charity care, but low recompense from Medicaid," Ford said.
Solid waste disposal — Land fill, transfer station
Economic development — On the judge's desk
Mental health services — Pecan Valley MHMR
Libraries — County library, genealogy library
SOURCE: Somervell County