Bibb County’s commissioners are asking agencies and departments to attempt 10 percent cuts in their budget requests, but on Thursday officials with The Medical Center of Central Georgia asked for millions of dollars more.
Commissioners indicated they’ll likely slice the subsidy for the Medical Center, giving $900,000. In the current budget, commissioners gave $1 million for indigent care, down from $3.9 million in last year’s budget.
Commissioner Joe Allen, who earlier in the day was considering wiping out the subsidy altogether, said the Medical Center couldn’t get much money from Bibb County’s turnip.
“This turnip is wilting,” he said.
Medical Center President and CEO Don Faulk replied, “Well, our turnip got plucked last year, with $3 million.”
In a letter drafted earlier in the budget process, Rhonda Perry, the Medical Center’s chief financial officer, asked commissioners to “restore the cuts from previous years and move to a level which could be tied to a millage equivalent or percent of taxes,” essentially guaranteeing a portion of Bibb County’s budget to the region’s only trauma center.
The hospital estimates Bibb County residents will cost about $17.3 million in charity care next year.
Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said the county has “some obligations” for indigent care but can’t spare $4 million.
“We’ve asked people to look at 10 percent reductions in what we gave last year. There’s some sentiment that we ought not to give you a dime, and I don’t share that,” Edwards said.
Faulk said he couldn’t say exactly what a 10 percent cut in county funding would mean. The hospital has many undetermined factors affecting its budget, including federal health-care reform, new state taxes and reimbursements, and an economic decline that are making more people indigent.
Nancy Anderson, chairwoman of the Medical Center’s board, said staff members have gotten raises averaging about 2 percent this year.
Commission Chairman Sam Hart said budget decisions would be finalized in June.
Also appearing before commissioners Thursday, Macon Transit Authority officials said poor service meant a loss of more riders this year. But CEO and General Manager Rick Jones expects that improved service next year will bring fares from about $800,000 this year to more than $1 million next year.
Jones said if his budget works out, he’ll need 15 percent less county money next year than last year, when reserve funding is factored in. The request for $769,473 could help buy another 15 buses, add incentive pay and try to make salaries more equitable.
At $9.18 per hour, Macon Transit’s top-paid paratransit driver makes less than half of similar drivers in Columbus and Rome, and even makes less money than the worst-paid regular transit bus operator in Macon.
Separately, Tubman African American Museum officials told commissioners they hope to restart construction on its new museum in six months, gradually taking over the shell of the new building and adding staff. The museum now runs with six full-time employees and a $314,041 Bibb County subsidy.
A similar amount was given this year to the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which said it hopes to get back Director Suzanne Harper’s 10 percent pay cut from years ago. That museum is trying to use more volunteers but lacks staff to coordinate them, board President-elect Tom Wight said.
Other agencies are struggling to meet the requested 10 percent cut. Jimmie Samuel of the Equal Opportunity Council said cuts simply meant fewer people could be helped.
“I would strongly urge you not to abandon the least of us,” he said. “We’ve never been able to serve everybody. We certainly can’t do it now.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.