Medical bills piling up for county inmates
GREENCASTLE -- The Putnam County Sheriff's Department went before the county council Tuesday with a request for additional money due to medical bills acquired by inmates.
Vova Johnson, an assistant matron at the jail, said the department (as of Tuesday) is short $80,000 to pay medical bills. That figure does not include bills not yet received on three inmates transferred to Indianapolis heart hospitals by Putnam County Hospital or the two remaining months of the year.
The department began 2009 with $150,000 budgeted for medical costs, but also started with a $55,000 deficit.
Additionally, Johnson explained in the past the jail was not responsible for medical costs should a person be taken to PCH before being booked into the jail. Now it is state statute the jail be responsible for those costs too.
"There is nothing we can do," said Sheriff Steve Fenwick, who was present at the meeting with Johnson.
This deficit also does not include inmates waiting to be transferred to the department of corrections, as the jail is not responsible for their medical costs. The sheriff's department was asking for the $80,000 to be transferred from the rainy day fund.
However, the council could not vote on this issue due to the rainy day fund not being advertised to date. It will have to wait until the November meeting before an official decision can be made. The council requested the sheriff's department to include numbers for the rest of the year when it returns next month.
In addition, the sheriff's department had a full-time jail officer resign Monday and requested to hire a new person for the position.
Council vice president Darrel Thomas asked if new money was going to be needed or if money was already in the fund for the position.
Fenwick said the money was already in the fund and no new money would be needed.
The council approved the request, subject to approval by county commissioners at their Nov. 2 meeting.
After appearing before the county commissioners Monday and receiving approval, Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges and Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley went before the council to discuss hiring a court referee.
Since some of the council members did not receive a copy of the proposal in a timely manner, council president Mitch Proctor asked the judges to give a "reader's digest" version.
"This will benefit the tax payers," Bridges said in his opening statement. "Folks using the court system will benefit."
He explained a referee would be appointed by himself and Headley and would receive a $75,000 annual salary with 33 percent of that figure reimbursed by the federal government on Title 4 cases heard by the referee.
There would be minimal start-up costs because most of the office supplies needed are already in place and space is open in the prosecutor's office.
"The timing is right with the prosecutor's office leaving," Bridges added. "We would have the space and most of the office supplies."
Council member Opal Sutherlin was interested in knowing how it would affect the workload at the clerk's office. Thomas and council member Roger Deck wanted the judges to prepare a budget, while council member Nancy Fogle wanted to hold off on a decision until the county gets its 2010 budget back.
The judges were requesting the money be transferred out of the rainy day fund, but the item was tabled until the November meeting for a few reasons -- needing to advertise the rainy day fund and wanting more time to "digest" the proposed information.
Thomas also showed concern over the proposal since the sheriff's department needs a large amount of money out of the rainy day fund.
In other business:
* For the first time in Putnam County history, a farm has been given a tax abatement. The Legan Farm is expanding its operations and requested a tax abatement at the August county council meeting.
The family-owned farm, which produces 40,000 weaned pigs and about 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans annually, is located in the eastern part of the county.
Mike and Phyliss Legan are looking to expand their ag business by approximately 10 acres with a 26,000 square-foot building and two new employees. The farm currently employs eight.
While some council members were concerned giving the abatement would cause other farmers to request abatement, it voted to give the Legan Farm a 10-year abatement on the building and equipment.
Following the approval, Fogle noted she was hesitant to agree because of things she has heard.
"Nothing against anyone," she added.
Proctor and Thomas said the council should take a look at abatement rules and set some guidelines for the agriculture businesses of Putnam County.
* Putnam County Treasurer-elect Sharon Owens went before the council for transfers of appropriations. The $6,000 transfer for help on tax sales and during November tax collections was approved. However, the $1,400 transfer to cover meetings and seminars was turned down by a motion made by Fogle and seconded by Sutherlin.
Owens also gave an update on the hundreds tax sales.
"When we started there were 1,900 properties, now there are 575," she said. "We have collected approximately $400,000 and there are two weeks left."
When questioned by Sutherlin about comments on the time elapsed between tax sales, Owens said there have been a few.
* Emergency Operations Center director Dave Costin was approved for two transfers totaling $900 for office supplies. The money will be transferred out of the EOC's utility fund.
* Putnam County Health Department administrator Beth Glaze went before the council to have a fund set up for the grant it will receive for the H1N1 vaccine from the state through the Centers for Disease Control.
She was given approval.