Bills could mean more taxes

By DeeAnna Haney | May 17, 2013

Several bills targeting social services across the state could mean higher county taxes if passed into law.

North Carolina counties have traditionally been exempt from paying court fees when it came to child support, adult protective services and child protective services.

But counties began footing the bill for child support filings after a legal opinion was issued stating it should be so. House Bill 343 seeks to ratify that legal opinion and extend filing fees to all areas.

This legislation will have a significant impact on the Department of Social Services, which makes hundreds of court actions each year.

Ira Dove, director of social services for the county, said last year the department filed about 100 child protective service cases and about 20 adult protective service cases.

“By far and away, what we file most often are child support actions. None of these are charged to anyone else, so the county will be fronting this money,” he said.

Coming in at about $150 per action plus a $30 service fee, he projects the county will have to pay nearly $60,000 in child support enforcement, $18,000 plus service fees for child protective services and $4,000 plus service fees for adult protective services.

Federal funds reimburse the county for 66 percent of child support enforcement charges.

“This is coming at a time when there has been a lot of reductions in child welfare funding. There is a lot pushed on the county in welfare funding. When people in Raleigh say they’re cutting the budget, what they’re doing is cost shifting,” Dove said.

All monies would be expected to be paid upfront, but the bill now says the clerk of superior court could allow the county to pay the fees within 45 days of the filing of any action.

And if counties don’t pay their case filing fees within 90 days, the bill would allow the clerk of superior court to withhold distribution of facility fees to cities and counties.

Fees are included in every court filing at the court and are given back to the county to pay for facility use, said June Ray, clerk of superior court for Haywood.

Iredell County legislator Rena Turner, a former clerk of superior court, is the primary sponsor of the bill, which was filed in March.

It has already passed through the House and is now making its way through the Senate, passing the first reading last week.

House Bill 392 and its companion Senate Bill 401 would also be paid for on the county’s dime. The bills would require DSS to run background checks on public assistant recipients such as Medicaid. Those who are fleeing felons or a probation or parole violator would not be eligible for public assistance and would be referred to law enforcement for arrest. According to Dove’s projections, about 8,000 adults would be checked costing the county about $280,000.

Out of the thousands of people that would be checked, Dove said, “It would be a very small amount of cases that are likely to hit active arrest warrants.”

At this time, DSS doesn’t have free access to a national criminal background check database such as NCIC. Dove said the state would have to figure out a mechanism so that DSS can access such a database or the agency would have to pay an outside company to run the background checks.

“This could not be implemented without significant increase in administrative responsibilities,” Dove said, explaining that staff would be required to hand out agreement forms to recipients, run the background check and notify law enforcement of offenders.

“It’s an unfunded mandate because we don’t have to allocate funds but we have to figure out a way to do it,” he said.

Another bill that would have cost about $1 million to Haywood taxpayers did not cross over to the senate. Senate Bill 447 would have required drug testing for people seeking welfare benefits. It was projected that about 8,000 adults would be tested costing about $100 per test.

Neither Senate Bill 650 regarding drug testing of Work First recipients, nor Senate Bill 447, which required drug tests for those receiving public assistance, made it out of committee before the crossover deadline, which means the legislation is killed for the sesion. However, measures involving taxes, fees, finances or appropriations can still be considered until the legislative session concludes, and some could include the concept within the bills within the final budget.

If required to perform drug tests, Haywood County would have to spend about $800,000, a number based on testing 9,000 Medicaid, 5,000 Food and Nutrition and 8,000 adults at $100 per test.

“I can say that in other states, that bill has been found by federal courts to not be constitutional,” Dove said of the drug testing bill.

County commissioners are still working on the budget, which will be presented on May 20 and a public hearing is set for 5 p.m. June 3.