Advocate for counties finalizes its legislative priorities


Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 6:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 6:40 p.m.

The Florida Association of Counties has established its game plan for the state Legislature’s 2013 session as the new year nears.

FAC, which represents the interests of the state’s 67 counties, finalized its policy priorities at a legislative conference it held in Sarasota last week.

It will focus on three primary issues in the upcoming session: Medicaid billing, juvenile detention billing and the communications services tax.

Alachua County Communications Coordinator Mark Sexton, who attended the conference, will present FAC’s agenda to the County Commission at its Dec. 11 meeting. He expects commissioners to agree with those priorities because they impact county revenue, which is especially important in a time of tight budgets.

Although FAC does much advocacy work on its own, it keeps counties abreast of developments, Sexton said.

“FAC doesn’t just go off on their own and say, ‘OK, now we’ve got it from here,’ ” he said. “They stay in close contact with the counties, and when the time comes, they let the counties know, ‘OK, it’s time for you to start talking directly to your legislative delegation.’ ”

The Medicaid billing system could cost counties about $300 million annually, FAC Communications Director Cragin Mosteller said. The organization supports dissolving the system in a way that would eliminate any county-level financial responsibilities and related administrative burdens for Florida’s Medicaid services, but would also support retaining the current process if it is revised, according to its 2013 legislative program.

Suggested revisions include allowing counties to review their bills before paying them.

Alachua County Commissioner Susan Baird agreed the state should develop a system that, at minimum, ensures that counties’ Medicaid bills are accurate.

FAC was helpful when counties were disputing the Medicaid bills they received from the state, Acting County Manager Richard Drummond said. Alachua County staff collaborated with FAC to determine the accuracy of its estimated Medicaid bill. He remembered FAC organizing huge conference calls that included representatives from virtually every Florida county to assess concerns about inaccurate billing estimates.

“They work really hard to represent all the counties,” Drummond said of the FAC staff. “We didn’t have to worry about pitting one county against the other.”

Baird said FAC is useful in resolving technical issues like the Medicaid billing controversy, but she said Alachua County officials should evaluate its views and speak up if FAC’s views don’t align with local needs.

FAC also singled out the juvenile detention billing system as another in need of revision. It supports shifting the full responsibility for funding and operating juvenile detention facilities to the state as well as a few revisions to the current system, according to its legislative program.

Bills from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice cost counties between $70 million and $100 million per year, Mosteller said.

FAC’s third priority aims to ensure amendments to the Communications Services Tax, which provides revenue for both the state and its counties, do not diminish the tax as a revenue source for local governments. The tax, which applies to communications services such as direct-to-home satellite and telecommunications outlets, needs to be updated in a revenue-neutral way that doesn’t hurt their already diminished budgets, she said.

Although its legislative priorities may change from year to year, Mosteller maintained the organization’s mission to preserve and protect home rule remains its central focus.

“We want your county commissioners to have the ability to make changes and have an impact on the local level,” she said.

Drummond said Alachua County is rarely in total alignment with FAC’s goals because different counties have differing priorities. However, FAC always considers its input.

“We certainly have a voice,” he said.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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