Medical Center wants funding restored

At least 60 people wearing white coats, scrubs and business suits — with more spilling out in the hall — showed up Thursday to weigh in on Bibb County’s proposed $89.7 million general fund budget.

At the public hearing, the visitors — most, if not all, employed by or connected to The Medical Center of Central Georgia — asked county commissioners to restore the $2.9 million cut from Bibb’s annual allocation to the hospital. The money helps pay for patients who cannot pay for treatment themselves.

Cutting those funds will have a “huge, potential negative impact that will be felt throughout the community,” hospital Chief Executive Officer Don Faulk told commissioners. Cuts to service are possible, he said.

The hospital’s current allocation in the county’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget is $1 million. Indigent care is expected to cost the hospital about $17 million next year, Faulk said.

Commissioners said they can’t restore the funds without raising taxes, and some of them said they weren’t willing to do that.

Most have committed to rolling back the millage rate to make the recent countywide property revaluation revenue neutral or at least as close to revenue neutral as possible.

“If (the Medical Center has) reserves and they’ve got needs they can’t meet, that’s why you have a rainy day fund,” Commissioner Lonzy Edwards said.

During budget hearings, Faulk said the reserves, which are between $300 million and $400 million, are needed to prevent financial problems and to keep a good bond rating.

The county has the same need to stay fiscally sound as the hospital, Edwards said.

Commissioner Joe Allen said he was willing to look into the hospital’s idea of tying its funding to the millage rate by creating a special tax. He also said he was willing to let the Medical Center reap some tax revenue generated from the revaluation.

That idea generally has been dismissed in the past. Commissioner Elmo Richardson said such a tax would make funding the hospital an entitlement that the county isn’t required to give.

The Georgia Constitution authorizes counties to fund indigent health care, although it doesn’t appear that it obligates them to do so.

“I’m just going to digest the information and talk to the commissioners,” Commission Chairman Sam Hart said.

The commission has made several other cuts to its budget, which started with $96 million in funding requests, in addition to the one at the Medical Center.

Commissioners eliminated vacant positions, cut out salary raises for employees, reduced the county’s contribution to a trust that pledges money toward its future liabilities and denied funding increases to almost all outside agencies.

The commission plans to adopt the budget, which is about 4 percent less than this year’s, at 10 a.m. June 29. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.