Hennepin County, HCMC face funding shortages

A proposed plan suggests cutting the budget by 6 percent and raising the property tax levy by 3 percent to give HCMC approximately $19 million.

Katherine Lymn

Hennepin County Administrator Richard Johnson presented his budget plan for 2010 at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, where the biggest topic of discussion was an insufficiency in funding for the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) after general assistance medical care (GAMC) funding is cut. JohnsonâÄôs plan proposed an operating and capital budget of $1.6 billion, which is 6.5 percent lower than the $1.7 billion final budget for 2009. A 3 percent increase in property tax levy was also proposed. The increase would lead to an $18.8 million increase in tax revenues for the county in 2010, which would be committed solely to cover part of the âÄúexpected surge in uninsured people seeking careâÄù at HCMC, Johnson said in the report. JohnsonâÄôs proposal is based on the idea that the economy will not be significantly better in 2010 than it is now, he said. The proposal suggested cutting operating costs, which face a $94.4 million reduction, by maintaining the countyâÄôs hiring freeze, eliminating at least 163 positions and saving $16 million by ending the contract for the Elk River Resource Recovery Project, a sustainable recycling and disposal facility. The remaining $34.6 million in cuts will come out of the capital budget. Commissioners criticized Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his recent health care coverage cuts, and said these cuts would end up costing the county more in the future. In May, Pawlenty vetoed the state-funded GAMC program, which helped low-income adults afford healthcare. PawlentyâÄôs office was not available for comment. The program was used by 32,000 of Hennepin CountyâÄôs 1.2 million residents and HCMC will lose $43 million as a result of PawlentyâÄôs veto. First district commissioner Mike Opat said the $18.8 million going to HCMC is simply not enough. âÄúThat does not solve the [GAMC] problem,âÄù said Opat, who also chairs the board. âÄúWe have some work to do.âÄù Third district county commissioner Gail Dorfman, who serves southwest Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, praised JohnsonâÄôs plan, but did not deny the countyâÄôs economic problems. âÄúIt has been a tough year,âÄù she said, adding PawlentyâÄôs healthcare cuts were âÄúblatantly unfairâÄù to Hennepin County residents. Peter McLaughlin, who is the commissioner for the fourth district, which includes the University of Minnesota, also commended the proposal and blamed the state government for the economic problems the county is facing. âÄúWeâÄôve been doing our part; the state of Minnesota has not been a reliable partner,âÄù he said at the meeting. Focusing on the positive, Johnson appreciated that the economic recession forced county employees to rethink the budget in a new way. âÄúAs we lost significant state funding, we have been diligent and proactive in our response through innovation, surface redesign and spending reductions,âÄù he said. Beginning Oct. 8, the county will hold a series of public hearings on different parts of the budget. The Board will vote on the budget on Dec. 15. âÄúWeâÄôre going to have to look at the whole thing,âÄù McLaughlin said. âÄúThis is as difficult a budget as IâÄôve ever encountered in my time on the county board.âÄù