As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, Atascosa County will not be providing services for anyone in reference to indigent health care. This was part of the Atascosa County Commissioners Court meeting on March 26.
The shut down of services will continue until August 31, 2012, noted Janeane Hester, program coordinator for the Atascosa County Indigent Health Care program.
“The statute allows us to shut down once we spend all of our funds and the state money that is available to us,” said Hester. “I understand that Commissioners Court wants to be financially responsible and pay those bills that are coming in. It would leave us with nothing and it is a long way until September, so the decision is yours.”
She added, “I don’t think we’ll have any problem on the state level if we do shut down and allow ourselves a little money to pay those bills that do come in.”
Hester explained that the county’s initial allocation for state assistance funds for the fiscal year 2012 is $21,149. This is a huge difference than what is generally received in the past. In previous years, the county received close to $600,000.
Commissioners also approved the 2012 Pro Rate Tobacco Settlement Distribution County Expenditure Statement and that Judge Diana Bautista sign it. The total is over $4 million. However, Atascosa County Auditor Ray Samson said the county will see maybe one percent of this, if it is lucky. Hester said that the county has always been gracious to allow the money that does come in from this to be used to pay some of these bills in the indigent health care program.
Commissioners voted unanimously that the Atascosa County Elections Administrator Janice Ruple motion shall enter into contract with cities and schools to perform election services, with the understanding that they (the cities and schools) are going to pay for those services. However, her number one priority come Nov. 6 is that the county, state and federal elections will be the number one priority. Judge Bautista also said they do not have a choice in the matter
“She handles all complaints as they are coming in,” said Judge Bautista. “Any complaints on behalf of the cities and schools can be put to the side until she can get to it. She’s not going to break her neck getting to it, because we’ve got to take care of our own first.”
At the start of the discussion, Judge Bautista explained that this item was on the last meeting’s agenda. It was taken to the County Attorney’s office and researched further. Molly Solis, on behalf of County Attorney Lucinda Vickers contacted the Secretary of State. She received a five page-email.
Solis explained that the county elections administrator under a specific section of the Election Code is required to enter into a contract for furnishing services, if requested by a political subdivision (in certain situations).
The elections administrator is a position primarily about elections, said Solis, so he or she has that duty to contract. There is not a way that they can refuse. The request in this case has been made in a timely manner.
Regarding contract disputes, in 2011, the legislature changed the process, so if Ruple and the political subdivision in question can’t come to a conclusion agreement about who is going to pay for what, then she has to get an opinion from the Attorney General.
Only the county clerk and county tax assessor have the right to say no to these services, said Solis. That is because they have other tasks to perform for the county.
Judge Bautista said that she was going to stand her ground. Regarding performing election services it does state “shall” not “may.”
“I don’t give a hoot about the cities and the schools,” said Bautista. “When it comes to that Nov. General Election, your number one priority is going to be the county, because the county, state and federal elections that are gong on. You are going to have enough of a headache answering those phone calls Nov. 6 for the 24 polling locations, without having to contend with the cities and schools. We get to them when we get to them, but you are not going to break your neck to help them in any form or fashion, when they could very well have done their elections on odd numbered years.”
Solis also said Ruple is allowed to hire additional staff and they have to pay for it. Ruple can also hire additional elections judges and they have to pay for it as well.
“Not a one is going to say, ‘Well, you’re holding elections anyway.’ I don’t care. You should have done this on odd numbered years. The county state and federal are number one and the rest of them can come towards the end.”
Ruple said that they can handle it. It will just require a little more. She is also glad they can hire additional help.