Bertie’s gains are minimal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 8, 2007

WINDSOR – Some local officials are apparently upset at the outcome of the General Assembly’s recent debate on how to best relieve counties of the Medicaid burden.

North Carolina has finally passed its budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007-2008, one where the Medicaid issue was embroiled in debate.

It was finally decided to phase out the counties’ Medicaid share over a period of the next three fiscal years, but not without taking away much of their revenues from sales tax.

County Manager Zee Lamb broke down the give-and-take at Monday’s meeting of the Bertie County Commissioners.

The estimate of Bertie’s Medicaid share for this FY would have been $2.6 million. After the three year phase-out plan is complete, the county will no longer be responsible for that, but they will also lose much in other revenues.

They will give up sales tax dollars equal to $1.6 million collected the last fiscal year, an amount expected to increase to over $2 million in the next three years.

&uot;They’re taking away $2.1 million to pay out $2.6 million… Bertie’s not gaining much there,&uot; Lamb stated.

He continued, &uot;Instead of paying out 14.6% of our budget to Medicaid, we’ll still be left paying approximately 11% indirectly for the same thing.&uot;

In order to make up the difference in having to pay for the counties’ share of Medicaid, the state plans to take over and receive the revenues from Article 44, a sales tax that currently generates $600,000 per year for Bertie County.

In addition, the county will have to pay the towns $150,000 to make up the difference to them in lost Article 44 revenue, due to a hold harmless clause.

The state also switched Article 42 from a per capita method of distribution to a point of collection sales tax. Bertie receives three times more with the per capita method as opposed to the point of collection method.

&uot;That move hurts the poor, rural counties and benefits urban ones,&uot; Lamb stated.

Bertie County will lose an additional $675,000 in revenue from that switch and will be required to pay the towns an additional $175,000 for them to be held harmless.

The Article 42 switch helps 15-20 counties, all the highly populated ones, and hurts over 80.

&uot;Our sales tax revenue will be cut by over 50 percent by this,&uot; Lamb said.

Lamb also expressed his discontent with the way the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) handled the whole thing.

&uot;I’m not anti-Association, but I feel like they did not protect our county’s interest in this case… they allowed the urban counties to pull a fast one,&uot; he stated.

He went on, &uot;It’s very disheartening that our association did not protect us. They sat back and let this happen.&uot;

The county depends on much of the money from Article 42 to go toward school construction, debt service, and school capital outlay. That money will now have to come from elsewhere, most likely the general fund, according to Lamb.

&uot;This switch on Article 42 is inexcusable… I can’t blame it all on one person, but it goes against their (the NCACC’s) long-standing policy of not taking from one county and giving to another,&uot; Lamb said in response to a question from Commissioner Norman Cherry Sr. on whether he thought it was David Thompson’s (the executive director of the NCACC) fault.

Since 1986, it’s been the position of the NCACC that sales tax revenues be equally distributed between the per capita and the point of collection methods.

&uot;It’s a reverse Robin Hood type thing… they’re taking from the poor counties with Article 42 and giving to the rich, urban counties,&uot; Lamb said.

He further stated, &uot;We were the poster child for Medicaid relief, but when you look at who benefited from this, it’s the urban counties. We were used.&uot;

&uot;It’s very disappointing that we didn’t get better relief… I don’t blame the governor, I don’t blame the General Assembly… but the urban counties took advantage and we’re losing out from it,&uot; Lamb noted.

He also said that this is a trend that is being seen more and more in Raleigh – the tendency to favor urban counties over rural counties.

&uot;These urban counties are able to influence legislation in the General Assembly because they have more population and therefore more voting power in the legislature,&uot; Lamb later told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.

He went on to say, &uot;I hold the affluent urban counties responsible, particularly Wake County, who used their influence and power to steal money from 80 fellow counties, money that those counties have been receiving since 1986. Those urban counties don’t seem to care about the plight of rural North Carolina.&uot;

The new plan for partial Medicaid relief will go into effect in October and will be fully implemented by 2010.