Senior board president Jim Henderson speaks at a meeting with the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners on Nov. 8.

Photo by Marlea Hanson / Lewis County Tribune

Senior Group Accepts Amended Funding

By Marlea Hanson, Lewis County Tribune

     CHEHALIS — After a contentious budget meeting with the Lewis County Commissioners that spanned several days, the Lewis County Senior Board agreed Nov. 9 to a reduction in funding that should help the five senior centers pay for costs such as utilities and insurance in 2018.

     Last year the county spent $375,000 to operate the senior centers, including nutrition programs, enrichment and exercise classes. Near the end of 2016, the county informed the senior centers they would have to fund themselves beginning in 2017. That deadline was extended to 2018 after a public outcry from seniors and other county residents.

     The five senior centers formed a non-profit board to operate as one entity and to ensure that "no center is left behind." That board has been working all year to make the senior centers independent of the county beginning in 2018, but start-up costs like insurance and utilities pose a substantial budget challenge.

     When the seniors board and the county commissioners failed to reach an agreement on Nov. 8, senior board member and former Toledo mayor Jerry Pratt stepped down, saying he was unable to continue serving if a decision could not be reached. A meeting was scheduled for the following afternoon to continue negotiations.

     Senior board president Jim Henderson opened the Nov. 9 meeting by saying “if we don’t get what we’re asking, the senior centers will fail.”

     On the table was Lewis County’s original offer of $100,000 for start-up costs like utilities and insurance, $65,000 worth of reduced leases on five buildings amounting to one dollar per building annually for five years beginning in 2018, and an additional $135,000 was requested to cover expenses until planned fundraisers were implemented, for a total contribution of $300,000.

     The seniors voted to accept the amended figures at their regularly scheduled board meeting Thursday evening and authorized chairman Don Bradshaw to sign the agreement Nov. 13.

HDR engineering manager Keith Moen explains schematics to engineers and supervisors at the proposed dam site on Sept. 29.

Photos by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

Dam Could Mitigate Chehalis Floods

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     PE ELL — Regional planners are making progress to mitigate periodic flooding in the Chehalis River Basin with a new proposal to construct a flood retention dam south of the town of Pe Ell in western Lewis County.

     Engineers and supervisors with the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District met Sept. 29 to tour the proposed site of a flood retention facility on Weyerhaeuser land in a narrow valley surrounded by steep rock walls.

     Currently there are three similar retention dam options being considered for the location, all three of which would have the same flood reduction benefit of withholding 65,000 acre-feet of flood water.

     Keith Moen, engineering manager at HDR, said dam and water retention technology has improved a lot in the past 30 or 40 years. Moen said the proposed designs are similar in function to the Mud Mountain Dam on the lower White River and Puyallup River valleys and the Howard Hansen Dam on the Green River, both in Washington state.

     The primary function of the retention dam would be to hold back flood waters during storms like the flood that inundated the city of Chehalis and shut down Interstate 5 in late 2007.

     “This won’t prevent the Chehalis area from flooding in the future but it will help,” Moen said.

     The first proposal for the Chehalis River dam project would contain drop-down gates that only retain water during a flood and allow the river to naturally flow beneath the dam the rest of the time. The second proposal would retain water throughout the year and have the capacity to hold additional water during a flood. The third proposal is similar to the first proposal in that it would only retain water during a flood, but it is designed to be expanded in the future to provide increased storage capacity for flood waters, should the need arise.

     Flood district supervisor and Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund said she was most interested in the expandable retention option.

     All three proposals are designed with a spillover safety feature at the top should the retention dam ever reach capacity. All three proposals include provisions for fish passage and none of the current proposals include plans for hydroelectric power generation. Each of the proposals are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars with materials sourced from local rock quarries.

     For more information on the Chehalis Basin Strategy, visit http://chehalisbasinstrategy.com/

County Seeks Funding for Mandates

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     CHEHALIS — State and federal requirements to provide health care to inmates at the Lewis County Jail and legal defense costs for the poor or indigent don’t include state or federal funding and the costs for these services are crippling the county budget. Unfunded mandates for Lewis County to provide indigent defense and medical costs to jail inmates is approaching $1.5 million a year and continues to rise.

     “We need help,” Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund told state representatives and state senators gathered for a legislative roundtable Oct. 6 at the county courthouse. The county is not being reimbursed for these costs and the budget is so tight that the county has no choice but to cut back programs like health and social services including disease prevention and senior care.

     Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said 75 percent of the county’s annual budget is being absorbed by the legal system, with approximately $1 million going to pay the medical expenses of inmates. Snaza said medical expenses are consuming most of his department’s budget, forcing the sheriff’s office to operate at staffing levels below what they were in 1985.

     Health-care costs continue to rise nationwide and premiums can be so expensive that many low-income people just can’t afford health insurance and they are forced to put off necessary medical and dental care. Even if they do qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid will not cover the health-care costs of inmates while they're in jail or prison and state and local governments must foot the bill.

     “We’re strapped,” Snaza said. “Medicaid in our facility is killing us. Seventy-four percent of our inmate population receives Medicaid and we are paying for them.”

     There are a lot of reasons for declining revenues in Lewis County such as a loss of income from the bygone timber and mining industries, but rising health-care costs are consuming by far the greatest share of the county budget.

     According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, state prisons and county jails are constitutionally obligated to provide health care to inmates under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Medicaid doesn’t cover inmates while they're in jail, with one exception: health care delivered outside the institution, such as at a hospital or nursing home, when the person has been admitted for 24 hours or more.

     According to the Washington State Health Care Authority, “prior to July 2017, Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) was closed when a person receiving coverage became incarcerated. Following the passage of SSB 6430 Medicaid Suspension, the Health Care Authority was directed to suspend, not terminate Medicaid coverage for individuals in a correctional setting.”

     The Health Care Authority said “under current policy, an incarcerated individual can retain their Apple Health eligibility indefinitely, however, their scope of coverage will change. When an individual is incarcerated, the Health Care Authority suspends full scope coverage and limits it to inpatient hospitalization only. While incarcerated, the agency also suspends any payments to managed care organizations, behavioral health organizations, and any other Medicaid-related service authorizations.”

     Many members of this at-risk population will require continued medical care and substance-abuse counseling after being released from jail, and their successful rehabilitation into society could depend on their continued Medicaid coverage outside jail, according to Pew.

     District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard said the highest users of the court system are repeat offenders.

     “Once a person is determined to be indigent, they are indigent throughout the entire process, even if they get a job later on,” Buzzard said.

     The county is required to incur these legal costs without state reimbursement.

     “It’s wrong for the state to balance its budget on the backs of the counties,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “We need to find a way of actually funding these mandates.”

     Lewis County is also struggling to find affordable healthcare coverage for its own employees. Commissioner Bobby Jackson said the county is facing a 68 percent increase in insurance premiums due to the relatively high median age of county employees.

     “Lewis County is the prime example of the national health-care crisis,” said county human resources director Archie Smith. “We are an aging employer and finding affordable health care is a growing problem. We desperately need to find a good insurance provider.”

 

     Contact Jake Morgan at jake.morgan@lewiscountytribune.com

See Lewis County’s Nov. 7 election results at

http://results.vote.wa.gov/results/current/lewis/

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