Commissioner Questions Plan for Medicaid Savings

The Charlotte Observer
Earnest Winston
Apr 22, 2004

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones plans to use some of the savings from the county's contribution to Medicaid to replace old computers and vehicles, repair county buildings and upgrade software.

But at least one county commissioner questioned during a meeting Tuesday Jones' plans to reallocate much of the $3.3 million the county overbudgeted but no longer needs for Medicaid. Republican Commissioner Ruth Samuelson said she prefers to decide how the money should be used during budget discussions, which are expected to get intense after Jones recommends a budget May 18.

By using about $2 million in savings to buy new PCs and cars, upgrade software and repair buildings, Jones will not recommend that the commissioners fund these items during the next fiscal year. In doing so - and making the other $1.3 million available for next year's budget - Jones hopes to chip away at the county's $32 million budget shortfall.

Interim Budget Director John Skidmore said the county hasn't replaced its aging vehicles in two years and has struggled to find money to pay for new ones.

Samuelson said she agrees with Jones' rationale for using the money.

"But it feels like this is going around the normal budget process," she said. "Rather than letting money go into the regular process, somebody is saying `I want to, piece by piece, take these decisions out of the normal budget process.' "

Samuelson left the room when she thought the commissioners were about to vote on whether to give Jones the authority to reallocate the Medicaid savings.

"I don't want somebody to come back later and say, `You voted to do this,' " she said. With Samuelson still absent from the meeting, the commissioners decided Jones did not need approval to reallocate the leftover money.

Jones said his intention to reallocate the savings isn't any different from what he has done in past years when he's identified savings. He also said he received the commissioners' blessings to use savings from the current budget for items such as replacing vehicles and PCs that didn't make the cut.

Republican Chairman Tom Cox said previous county managers have reallocated savings without telling the commissioners. He said the commissioners have asked Jones to "not play games with us but to fully disclose his actions."

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