Jefferson County Commissioners Quarrel Over Making Changes to New Budget

Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The recently passed fiscal 2020 budget was the subject of some terse discussion during the Jefferson County Commission’s committee meeting Tuesday.

Commissioner Joe Knight offered a resolution to move $250,000 from demolition to reserves and another $250,000 that had been listed in the public service fund to a project fund for transit.

Knight said there was no new money. The transit money was already there, he said.

The proposal prompted a lengthy discussion that addressed the lack of demolitions of derelict house and the prospect of 15 being torn done this year.

Knight said commissioners could have saved 30 minutes from their committee meeting. Commissioner Steve Ammons said it was a needed discussion, the kind of discussion he said he had wanted before voting on the budget.

“It’s more than just demolitions,” Ammons said. “It’s about having budget amendments for a budget we just approved on the first of August. This is the conversation I wanted to come back to. This is a good conversation to have.”

Knight disagreed. “Y’all didn’t want to discuss it a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

“I certainly did,” Ammons replied.

Ultimately, the resolutions passed on a 3-2 vote, with Ammons and Commission President Jimmie Stephens voting no.

After the meeting, Knight, the finance committee chairman, said the matters he presented were a “clean up” process to move money to different places. Then, responding to a question, he gave his wish for future budget hearings.

“I hope I get a dadgum blank sheet instead of somebody else monkeying with it before I get it.”

Asked who “monkeyed” with the budget, Knight said, “You tell me who did the first two versions before I got it on that Thursday night, three days before the budget process.”

Health Care Authority Update

After the meeting, county manager Tony Petelos said his office is still in the due diligence phase of the process to create a health care authority with UAB.

“At the next commission meeting, we should have a good breakdown of what we’re doing – who, what, when and where,” he said. “I think in two weeks we’ll have a much better understanding of where we are.”

Petelos said representatives of the county and UAB are meeting as much as twice a week, hammering out details that will yield the health care authority.

“It’s the details that’ll get you,” the county manager said. “That’s what we’ve been working on.”

Those details include the ability of people who have worked for Cooper Green Mercy Health System to remain in the county’s retirement system.

“We don’t want to put half information out there,” Petelos said. “We should have everything pretty much nailed down in the next week or two. By the first (committee meeting of October), we’ll have a full understanding of where we are and work out all the fine details.”

In another health care matter, Cooper Green Mercy Health Services is changing its urgent care hours. Effective Saturday, Sept. 28, the Urgent Care Clinic will no longer be open on weekends. It will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Weekday hours had been 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday hours had been 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

According to a statement from the county, Cooper Green maintained extended hours to accommodate as many patients as possible. After monitoring patient traffic for the past year, it was determined that the clinic treated an average of three to four patients a day on the weekend.

After 4 p.m. during the work week, an average of four patients were seen. In addition, overall clinic volume is down by 21 percent year-to-date.

“While we always want to serve the needs of our patients, after monitoring it for a sufficient period of time, we believe the staffing burden outweighs the number of patients utilizing our urgent care services,” said Laura Hurst, deputy director of Cooper Green. “Other contributing reasons include the urgent care competition in the area. There are several competing facilities, and we don’t have the marketing dollars to be competitive.

“We, of course, want to be available to our patients, but we also have to be financially responsible,” Hurst continued. “We would rather put our resources where patients most need them.”