Kent County seeks action from state

February 15, 2009
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A resumption of revenue sharing, funding for a new outdoor music venue, and new liability limits for inmate medical expenses are among the items on Kent County’s 2009 priorities list for the state Legislature.

The list, adopted by the county’s Legislative Committee last week, contains nine ongoing issues and four new matters of concern.

Among the new matters, the county is requesting the state to fully fund a settlement the state reached over a class action lawsuit regarding child welfare services. As it now stands, the agreement is likely to require the county to contribute $2 million to the settlement.

The county is also asking the Department of Human Services to fully fund child welfare services that were mandated in last year’s budget negotiations. As it now stands, the county may be on the line to pay DHS roughly $600,000 and won’t receive any new services.

As for the ongoing matters, Kent County is supposed to begin receiving revenue-sharing payments from the state in 2011, about $12 million worth, and the state estimates it will need $113 million to meet all its revenue-sharing requirements that year. But a projection shows the state’s general fund will have more than a $1 billion deficit in 2011. Funds for revenue sharing come from the state sales tax.

The county is also asking the state for money to build an amphitheater in Millennium Park. The park is owned by the county, while the venue would be owned and operated by the Convention and Arena Authority. The county is willing to lease the land for the theater to the CAA for next to nothing, and wants the state to help pay for the construction of the amphitheater and for road improvements near the site. The amphitheater has a price tag of roughly $30 million.

The county also wants the state to limit Kent’s liability for medical expenses incurred by inmates at the county jail. Right now, the county is on the hook for pre-booking injuries that arrestees might suffer during the commission of a crime and during an arrest made by police other than the Sheriff. Kent doesn’t want that responsibility until an arrestee is booked at the jail.

The county would also like the state to cover an inmate’s outpatient treatment under Medicaid, as only in-hospital stays are currently covered, and wants to be billed at Medicaid rates for off-site treatments. The county spends more than $5 million a year on medical care for inmates. Kent recently reduced its daily charge to five cities for housing their inmates, a cut that will cost the county $600,000 a year.

The county also wants to see legislation that gives it the option not to participate in tax-increment financing authorities and brownfields, increases the size of DHS boards, and raises the population provision for a district court from 3,250 residents to 10,000.

Kent doesn’t want the state Constitution amended to limit the annual growth on a property’s taxable value. The state House adopted such a measure last fall.

“This document essentially will guide us during the year,” said Sandra Parrish, commission vice chairwoman and chair of the Legislative Committee.

Two of the county’s priorities were resolved by the state last year. The county’s share of the state liquor tax was restored and funding for the 911 emergency dispatch system was extended through 2014.

Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates, the county’s Lansing lobbyist, told the committee she didn’t think there would be action on the priorities anytime soon.

“We probably won’t see any legislative activity for two or three weeks,” she said, “and maybe for up to a month.”

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