xJohnson County Commissioners on Friday agreed to pay $370,000 to Texas Health Resources, the company operating Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne, to partially reimburse the hospital for providing health care to indigent people.
The county agreed earlier to pay THR $200,000 a quarter for indigent health care costs, with the state matching each $1 the county paid with $1.39. A representative with THR said the state gave the OK for the county to pay for two quarters and would likely not OK another IGT before January. The county would still be paying the already-approved amount for the year, he said, but would just be paying one quarter in advance.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey made the motion to approve the $370,000 payment, stopping short of the full $400,000 for two quarters to avoid completely depleting that fund. Federal law allows the county to choose to participate in the program to reimburse hospitals for the costs of indigent health care, but does not require the payments.
The THR representative said indigent health care costs in the county in the second quarter had been unexpectedly and alarmingly high. County Judge Roger Harmon said that happened because employees in the county’s indigent health care office had been adding people to the indigent health care rolls that did not qualify.
“That was our problem. We’ve taken care of that,” Harmon said.
Commissioners fired the head of the indigent health care department earlier this year, and the second person in the department resigned a few months later.
The payment was approved with a 3-1 vote, with Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Beeson abstaining. Precinct 3 Commissioner Jerry Stringer voted against the payment.
“I have been against this from day one, and I am against it now,” Stringer said, explaining that his opposition is based on the possibility that what is now “allowed” by federal government could become required.
“This is the kind of incrementalism they use” to eventually force counties to participate in such programs, Stringer said. “I’m not mad about the vote. I don’t like it. I’ve studied it and I think it could be better done for the county. But with the vote taken now, I support the court.”
Also on Friday, commissioners approved a budget of $38,500 to remodel the county-owned building on Walnut Street so that the Elections Department and the Medical Examiner’s Office can move to that location.
Once the building, previously occupied by the Adult Probation Department, is remodeled, the Elections Department will occupy offices on the south end of the building while the Medical Examiner’s Offices will be located on the north side, according to a plan approved Friday by commissioners.
Public Works Director Erik Dumas said staff from his department would handle most of the remodeling work, except for the installation of new carpeting. He said that $3,000 of the cost would be for installation of IT cables, which would be handled by the county’s Information Technology Department.
Most of the funds to pay for the project will come from the Building Repair and Maintenance fund, but the county “might need to move some extra over from the general fund,” said Budget Coordinator Holly Morris.
Commissioners also voted to approve almost the same amount to purchase a new audio/visual system for the county’s Emergency Operations Center, completed a year ago.
The Pathway Communications A/V system will cost just over $35,300. But the lion’s share of that cost — $25,000 — will be paid with funds donated to the county in April by Chesapeake Energy Co., specifically for that purpose. The remainder of the cost will be covered by funds already in Emergency Management Coordinator Jamie Moore’s budget, Morris said.
In other business, commissioners:
zx Voted to add $5,000 “to be used as salary and/or benefits” to the salary being offered in the search for a new purchasing agent for the county. The position is held by Margaret Cook who retired, but returned temporarily after commissioners fired her replacement.
Harmon made the recommendation to add the $5,000 to the position — which is being advertised with a salary range of $50,000-$65,965 — saying that the board appointed to hire a purchasing agent needed the flexibility the added money would give them.
Personnel Director Randy Gillespie agreed, saying that to find someone with county purchasing experience, Johnson County would need to hire them away from another county, which meant offering a better salary and benefits.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rick Bailey said that while he did not disagree with increasing the salary for the purchasing agent, he wanted to remind the court that “every single employee of this county” deserved raises, which have been put on hold for several years as commissioners battled to keep the budget in check amid the falling tax base and decreasing oil and gas revenues.
zx Voted to apply with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation Compliance Division for an architectural barriers variance related to handicap parking spots for Building C4 at the Johnson County Jail.
Architect Kenny Burns with Burns Architecture, LLC in Austin, told commissioners that every other problem state inspectors had found at Building C4, which was completed about a year ago, had been corrected, except for a slight problem in the slope of handicap parking spaces. He said the spaces had been completed as part of another building project had the jail, and were already existing — and approved by state inspectors — when Building C4 was finished.
Burns said it would cost the county “thousands” to redo the handicap parking spaces to correct the slope, which is off by about 1 percent. Instead, he said, the inspector suggested that the county apply for the variance.
“You just need to approve a check for $175 and authorize Judge Harmon to sign the application we have already filled out,” Burns said, a recommendation the commissioners quickly followed.