We had a busy day, it appears, at yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
The first three articles are on the approval of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
You’ve seen my budget related updates. We are running out of reserves. And we are hemorrhaging in the area of public safety (where the most expensive pension contribution rates lie).
Any new revenue source will be accepted. And ICE needs to rent our jails for detainees.
One small glitch: the city of Orange, where the Theo Lacy Jail is located, is expressing some reservations. We enjoy good communication with the city. I have a great relationship with the majority of their council members. And their city manager, John Sibley, is a former “star” OC department head. So I enjoyed a little “direct” dialogue with him while he was at the podium.
The first of the three articles is in the OC Register. The second article may be from the City News wire service and are found in the Los Angeles Daily Breeze and in the Contra Costa Times. The third piece is found on the Voice of OC website.
The fourth article is also in the Voice of OC. It deals with how funding expensive pension plans can reduce funding for health care. One observation: I don’t need to be shamed by being compared to San Francisco County. SF keeps 65 cents from every property tax dollar. OC is around 13 cents for every dollar. That kind of information would be useful to know. (More on this subject in the future.)
The fifth article addresses the redistricting discussion we had near the conclusion of the Board meeting. It is provided to you by the Voice of OC.
BONUS: Yesterday’s OC Register had a supportive Orange Grove editorial submission by J. Edward Ketz, Penn State University Accounting Professor, in support of our retroactive pension benefit lawsuit. He and several other distinguished accounting professors and professionals submitted an amicus brief on the County’s behalf. The whole country gets what we’re trying to do. You can read it at http://www.ocregister.com/opinion/county-258417-benefit-future.html.
O.C. jails to house immigration detainees
The Orange County Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to rent jail beds to the federal government to house immigration detainees.
The contract with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement will generate more than $30 million a year for the county for the next five years.
The agreement between the Sheriff’s Department and ICE has been touted as the lynchpin of the department’s budget, but the city of Orange has raised concerns over whether the decision to house immigration detainees at Theo Lacy violates a 15-year-old agreement not to alter the prison.
Nicholas Chrisos, the County’s counsel, said in Tuesday’s meeting that he did not think the contract with ICE violated the agreement between the city of Orange and the county, setting up a potential legal battle between the two.
"The city believes that the ICE proposal violates the court judgment," said David DeBerry, the city attorney for Orange.
"We knew the County was going to take a different position," he added. "We have been able to resolve our differences through negotiations in the past, but whether we will have to file a lawsuit will be decided in the next couple of weeks."
The City of Orange has raised concerns over releases from Theo Lacy facility, which is adjacent to the popular shopping center The Block. But allowing federal immigration detainees into the jail would decrease the number of releases from the jail because the contract with ICE mandates that releases would not take place from County facilities, Hutchens said.
"The more ICE detainees they have, the fewer releases they will have," she said.
The city council will meet next Tuesday to consider the issue.
Supervisors said that they hoped that the dispute between the Sheriff and the city of Orange could be settled out of court .
"When two municipalities take it to that level, the winners are the attorneys and the losers are the taxpayers," said Supervisor John Moorlach who added the he hoped the city council would not use the conflict as "political fodder" in the fall election.
Instead of the 1,400 beds originally proposed by O.C. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, the contract now calls for 838 beds divided between Theo Lacy Jail and James A. Musick facility near Lake Forest.
In her presentation to the board, Hutchens left open that possibility that the number of inmates could be increased in the future if space remains available in the jail system. Such a decision would require approval by the Board of Supervisors.
Hutchens said that she anticipates that County jails will begin receiving detainees in the first week of August. The decision to house inmates in county jails comes after its jail population has been decreasing over the past several years, something Hutchens attributes in part to the three strikes law and efforts at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.
The agreement with ICE mandates that the sheriff’s department renovate part of their facilities, which will cost the department approximately $6 million.
Housing federal immigration detainees has been in the works for some time and has involved extensive consultations between Hutchen’s department and the city’s affected by the decision.
"The cities have held our feet to the fire on the terms of these agreements and rightfully so," she said.
Contra Costa Times and Daily Breeze
Immigrant detainees to be housed in OC jails
From wire service reports
Orange County supervisors unanimously approved a contract today with federal authorities to house hundreds of immigration detainees in Orange County jails in Irvine and Orange.
The contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will make a total of 838 beds available in the Theo Lacy jail in Orange and the James A. Musick jail in Irvine. The Musick facility will have 366 beds available, 256 for men and 110 for women while the Lacy jail will have up to 472 beds available for only men.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens projects it will increase the Orange County jail population to about 5,700 inmates and could generate about $31 million for the county for fiscal year 2010-2011, and about $35 million for fiscal year 2011-12.
Hutchens reassured supervisors and city of Orange officials that the level of dangerous criminals, such as inmates charged with or convicted of murder and other violent crimes, will not go beyond the level allowed in the county’s agreements with Orange and Irvine.
Hutchens also noted the inmates will not be released directly into those cities as ICE officials will take them to other facilities throughout Southern California to release them. The only facility in Orange County where ICE detainees are housed is in Santa Ana.
City Manager John Sibley said he applauded the sheriff and her staff for working closely with city officials to keep them up to date on the contract negotiations with ICE.
Supervisor John Moorlach assured Sibley that county officials want to address the concerns of city of Orange leaders.
"I know we’re all saber rattling," Moorlach said, referring to an 8- page letter an attorney representing the city of Orange sent supervisors today on the ICE contract. "But I do think we can work it all out. We’re all attempting to do what’s right on the federal, state, county and city level."
"We fully recognize what you’re saying, particularly that the only winners at the end of the day will be the attorneys" if talks between county and city officials collapse, Sibley said.
But Orange City Council members will take up the issue at their July 27 meeting.
"I’ll continue to work with you to make sure this doesn’t turn into legal fisticuffs," said Supervisor Bill Campbell, who represents Irvine and Orange.
The sheriff said the new program will help reduce costs for federal authorities who now have to fly many detainees to other states such as Arizona and New Mexico.
The two jails will be modified to accommodate the federal detainees, Hutchens said.
The Lacy jail will be remodeled to add offices for ICE staff. The Musick jail will be upgraded to include office space, multipurpose rooms and three new courtrooms to help speed up the judicial process for the detainees.
The federal detainees will be housed at the Orange County jails for an average of 40 days, Hutchens said.
Hutchens noted the Mira Loma Detention Center in Los Angeles County houses about 1,400 inmates and since 1998 there’s been only one escape and that detainee was caught within 24 hours. There have been no recorded escapes of federal detainees at the Santa Ana jail, Hutchens said.
Since it’s a new contract, both sides have the option to opt out of the contract with 120 days notice, Hutchens said. If the county inmate population increases then the county has the right to cut back on the beds allotted for federal detainees, Hutchens said.
"I view this as a win for ICE and a win for the county," Hutchens said. "We’ve entered into a contract that will be a benefit for both sides."
The revenue is a much-needed boon for the sheriff, who has struggled to cut millions of dollars out of her budget over the past couple of years. The revenue from the federal contract will help balance the sheriff’s budget this year.
Orange (the city of) Worried About Orange (jumpsuits)
The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday signed off on a plan that would see beds at two Orange County jails rented out to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for housing of immigration detainees.
The agreement comes after a 17-month long process that saw the Sheriff’s Department compete with other counties for the valuable detainees — each of whom will bring in $118 per day in federal dollars. All told, county officials are expecting to receive $31.2 million in revenue from the feds to house 838 detainees.
The deal is expected to all but erase the Sheriff’s budget worries.
However, still lingering is the question of whether the deal violates an agreement the county has with city of Orange concerning the Theo Lacy jail, which, under the deal with the feds, will rent out 472 beds to ICE.
The city’s agreement with the county calls for a cap on the number of inmates that can be housed at the jail of 2,800 inmates, according to Orange City Manager John Sibley. The city does not want to see the jail, which is located in the southwest part of town, expanded or used to house more inmates than allowed.
Weighing heavily on the city are concerns that there would be increased inmate releases within city borders and particularly around the city’s largest shopping complex known as The Block, which is adjacent to the jail.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens says not to worry — 91 percent of the immigration detainees are eventually deported, and the ones who aren’t end up being sent to federal facilities.
Hutchens added that the beds to be used by immigration detainees would normally be used for county jail inmates. It’s an important point, she said, because it actually reduces the number of inmate releases into the city of Orange.
Hutchens’ argument does not completely sway Orange officials, Sibley said. There are other arguments, he said, one being that the immigration detainees could attract undesirable visitors from out of state.
"We’ve got a lot at stake there," Sibley said.
Sibley said the ultimate decision of whether the city will file a legal challenge against the county rests with the City Council, which will meet and take up the issue next Tuesday.
And even if the Orange situation is resolved, Supervisor John Moorlach isn’t convinced that the county jail competition for detainees was over.
"What happens if they [ICE] find another facility that they sort of like better?" Moorlach said. "If this is attractive to us it may be attractive to 57 other county sheriffs who say ‘I’ve got room’ and all of a sudden we see a decline in revenue."
Hutchens said there is a minimum guarantee of 500 immigration detainees for the county, but didn’t say how much revenue would go down if only the minimum number were housed.
— ADAM ELMAHREK
County Holds the Line While Indigent Healthcare Costs Skyrocket
The Great Recession has forced record numbers of adults to arrive in local hospital wards as indigents, but Orange County has thus far refused to increase its budget to help pay for their care, leaving private hospitals to bear the burden.
Hospital officials estimate their increased costs at about $100 million and say the county’s stance has not only strained their budgets but could ultimately contribute to higher health costs for all county residents.
The issue came to a head in June when the Board of Supervisors chose to keep its share of indigent care costs virtually the same as last year and allocate just $2 million from a special state funding bill, even though hospitals wanted $17 million and its own health department recommended adding $7.6 million.
Hospital officials testified during the hearing that the situation had become dire and hospitals were on the brink of insolvency. They left the meeting disheartened and angry, saying that they would have to publicly fight harder than ever before for more funding.
Since, they’ve backed off.
"The payments to the hospitals now are under 25 cents to the dollar of what it costs them," said Julie Puentes, regional vice president for the Hospital Association of Southern California. And with the patient load for fiscal 2008-2009 up 72 percent from the previous year, hospitals "are trying to do more with the same amount of money."
Supervisors don’t dispute Puentes’ claims, but say the county is too strapped itself to pay any more than it already is. Last month the county passed a $5.4 billion budget that included cuts to a vast array of programs and services, and it may be cut further depending on what the state does with its budget.
"There’s no argument," said Supervisor John Moorlach. "We have a very fragile health system in our county. No argument our health providers are putting in a disproportionate share."
However, when it comes to contributing to hospital care for indigent adults, the county is penurious compared to other large urban counties in California.
Orange County pays about $76 million for indigent adult care. San Francisco, which has about one third of the population, pays about $122 million for indigent adults. Los Angeles County has four county-run hospitals and partnerships with about 100 private clinics that care for indigent adults and other patients.
The fact that San Francisco and Los Angeles have county hospitals accounts for some of the funding disparity.
Caring For The Hardest Hit
Health care for impoverished adults, as much as any single issue, drives home the impact of the Great Recession on all areas of Orange County. When a person loses their job, their health insurance almost always goes with it.
And since private hospitals can’t, by federal law, refuse someone emergency medical care, they are picking up more and more of the tab for caring for the uninsured. Ultimately, those who still have private medical insurance will likely help cover the shortfall through potential tax increases or higher health insurance premiums.
There are three main government programs that provide health care. MediCal is a state program that provides care for poor children and families and Medicare is designed for adults aged 65 and over.
The Medical Services Initiative (MSI) is a mandatory state and county-financed program for adults aged 21 to 64. It is through this program that the county should be paying a larger share for adult indigent care.
Making matters worse for Orange County has been its comparatively low return on property taxes. County leaders are considering a lawsuit to change the formula for distributing property taxes.
Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) won a slight incease in the county’s property tax allocation formula that this year brought the county about an extra $50 million. But the windfall didn’t help hospitals much.
This was the pot of money out of which the hospitals wanted $17 million and the county’s health department recommended $7.6 million go toward an increase in county MSI funding.
The health department stated: "Hospitals, which were already reimbursed at very low levels, are seeing payment levels drop even further. The reductions in payment levels may affect the willingness of medical providers to see MSI patients."
But the supervisors ultimately decided on allocating just $2 million.
Life Without a County Hospital
All hospitals, private and county, that have emergency rooms take in emergency cases. But if a county has its own hospital, those without insurance can be transported to that hospital once their medical emergency is stabilized.
Since Orange County stopped running a county hospital, private hospitals bear this burden. The largest include: The University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Orange; Anaheim Memorial; Western Medical Center in Santa Ana; Fountain Valley Regional Hospital; Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo; St. Jude in Fullerton; St. Joseph in Orange and Hoag in Costa Mesa.
Orange County had its own hospital for most of the 20th Century. It began in 1914 as a tuberculosis sanitarium and the building is still standing in Orange, on the grounds of the UCI Medical Center.
The hospital expanded over the decades until the Board of Supervisors decided it wanted out of the hospital business in the mid 1970s and found a willing buyer in UCI.
Since that transaction private hospitals have cared for those without insurance, depending on the county to reimburse costs. But in the past year alone, because of the economy, the hospital association’s Puentes estimates that local hospitals with emergency rooms have swallowed nearly $100 million in unrecovered expenses.
Help on the Way?
The health department says it is expecting federal funds, possibly as much as $40 million, to be approved later this year to help offset the costs of caring for indigent adults.
And when federal health insurance reform begins to take effect in roughly three to four years, it should lift a large part of the burden from the county for caring for indigent adults.
But depending on how the economy is progressing and how details of the health insurance plan work out, it may also mean higher taxes, Puentes noted.
In addition, the hospitals in the next few years will be negotiating new contracts with private health insurance companies and those with private insurance could see a rise in premiums to help cover the costs not picked up by the county.
Providing healthcare to those who can’t afford it is important, Puentes said.