County enters agreement to help fund transportation servicesThe Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 June 30 to enter into a joint powers agreement with other metropolitan area counties to pay for a brokering service that helps organize transportation for residents who receive medical assistance.
By: Hank Long, Woodbury Bulletin
When the state taketh away, the county must pay.
That’s been a theme as of late for counties across the state as budget cuts at the state Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment plan have forced local governments to fund many state mandated services that were once funded by the state.
One example: the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 June 30 to enter into a joint powers agreement with other metropolitan area counties to pay for a brokering service that helps organize transportation for residents who receive medical assistance.
Since 2004, the state Department of Human Services has paid a coordinator, or broker, to arrange transportation for non-emergency medical appointments for those who are eligible for Medical Assistance, General Assistance and MinnesotaCare recipients.
This spring the state Legislature eliminated the funding for the brokering firm, but did not eliminate the state mandate that requires the county to provide the service.
The county was to vote on the joint powers agreement at its June 23 meeting, but commissioners voted to table the item to a special meeting June 30 in hopes that county staff could provide them with more information on the issue.
At the June 30 meeting the board continued to air its frustration over the situation, but voted to approve an agreement with other counties in the metro area to continue to work with Medical Transportation Management, Inc., the broker that the state has been using, until the end of the year.
Commissioners agreed that the vote was to provide services until the end of the year to ensure continuity of services while the county explores options to find the most cost-effective method to provide adequate transportation services for residents using Medical Assistance transportation.
“I’m going to reluctantly go ahead with this in the hopes that we can in the next six months come up with a better way of doing things,” said Washington County Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek. “A more straight forward solution that is geared more towards going directly with providers and going more towards a free market type system.”
Commissioner Gary Kriesel continued to emphasize the position the state has put counties in when it cuts funding for mandated services and said the state should have given counties more direction on how to fund the brokerage service when it eliminated the funding.
“This was dropped down by the state to us,” Kriesel said. “It would have been nice had they followed that up with a recommendation rather than just passing the buck down to us.”
It is expected that the county will spend $5,000 per month or $30,000 until the end of the year, for the trips.
There are 13,000 county residents who are eligible for the service. Between 600 and 700 residents are served each year, with about 250 rides provided each month.
Anoka County, which will serve as the fiscal agent for a group of seven counties which have agreed thus far to work together, will host a forum on the topic Aug. 6, to continue to gather information and work towards a permanent solution.
Commissioner Lisa Weik said she hopes that all avenues will be explored.
“We want to partner just in the spirit of the governor’s recommendation to consolidate services,” Weik said. “This seems like the most responsible path so that we actually don’t waste money in the long run.”