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by Burwell Stark
RALEIGH — At their meeting, Monday, Wake County commissioners heard a recap of the 2013 legislative session from a county perspective, which included a summary of the county’s legislative goals.
In the words of presenter Denise Foreman, assistant to the Wake County manager, out of the goals outlined by the county, they received credit for accomplishing “about two and a half.”
Protecting the county’s interests
According to Foreman, the county had outlined seven goals prior to the legislative session.
The successfully accomplished goals were the Wake County Board of Commissioners vacancies bill, which allows the board to appoint a replacement to fill a vacancy that may occur, and legislation that would allow the City-County Bureau of Identification (CCBI) to move its accreditation deadline from 2013 to 2016. This would give CCBI time to achieve accreditation in some of its specialty services as well.
CCBI met the original accreditation deadline but can now “add some of those specialty services and still be compliant with the extended deadline of July 1, 2016,” Foreman said.
The partial credit achieved in this year’s legislative session concerned board of education elections.
At the outset, the commissioners sought permission to have the Wake County Board of Education “run five members from district seats (districts to be determined) and four to run in at-large seats.”
Currently all nine board members are elected by district.
Forehand told commissioners, “The reason I say partial credit is because the legislation that was approved wasn’t what you all identified in your local goals but it did modify the elections.”
The final bill, S.L. 2013-110 (SB 325), modified the election dates for the board of education, but it mandated that all nine members continue to be elected by district.
Partnering with other counties
Also speaking to commissioners was Johanna Reese, director of government relations with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC). She presented the statewide update changes that were made at the General Assembly which have an impact on counties.
Reese began by outlining the successes seen by counties at the legislature. One of the main accomplishments was the protection of county budgets by the General Assembly. The legislators “kept their pledge to not shift unfunded mandates to counties.”
Another success was the lack of transfer of transportation responsibilities from the state to counties.
Counties also saw a slight increase in tax revenue as a result of this session’s budget. S.L. 2013-316 (HB 998) broadens the sales tax base by expanding the services that can be taxed to include service contracts (i.e., warranties and service contracts), movies and other amusements.
However, S.L. 2013-316 also permanently removes the corporate tax set-aside for school construction needs and given to county boards of education based on their average daily membership (ADM), known as the ADM Fund.
Another major victory outlined by Reese was SB 321, which caps the rate counties have to reimburse medical providers for the treatment of county prisoners. According to the bill, the new rate is the lesser amount of “either a rate of 70 percent of the provider’s then-current prevailing charge or two times the then-current Medicaid rate for any given service.”
Of note, the legislation was passed by both houses of the General Assembly but has yet to be signed by Governor McCrory.
Not all of the goals outlined by the NCACC were achieved. In addition to the permanent elimination of school construction funds based on ADM, Reese pointed out no new community mental health dollars were appropriated as the legislature chose not to restore the $20 million for community mental health services.
Instead, the 2013-14 budget redirected $9 million for additional local psych beds, created a statewide telepsychiatry program to alleviate emergency room wait times for involuntary commitments, and set aside $4.6 million for adult care group home transition issues.
Of the five Wake County legislative items that did not get accomplished, one is still on the table.
HB 726, Wake County Commissioners Responsible for School Construction, is still eligible for next year’s short legislative session.
Additionally, Foreman said that the county delegation would continue to seek repeal of the requirement for counties to provide office space for the NC Department of Corrections’ Probation Office saying it was another example of an unfunded mandate.