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Hidalgo-County-SealThe nine private hospitals participating in the Hidalgo County Health Care Funding District will be assessed 3.5 percent of their profits, or $44 million, for indigent health care based on their net profit of $1.3 billion, Eddie Olivarez, director of Hidalgo County Health and Human Services told Hidalgo County commissioners at their Friday, Dec. 20 meeting.

The hospitals include Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Knapp Hospital in Weslaco, Lyford Hospital, McAllen Medical Center, Mission Regional Medical Center, Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Solera in McAllen, South Texas Hospitals and Tropical Texas Behavioral Health.

The Hidalgo County Tax Department will be responsible for collecting the money from the hospitals and sending it to the state each quarter.

The cost to Hidalgo County for indigent medical services is $4,164,602 for 2013 related to the 1115 Waiver Anchor Program. The money will be sent to the state, where it will receive a multiplier because of the high amount of indigent care needed in the Rio Grande Valley. The money then will be returned to the hospitals for indigent care and for establishment of a medical school at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (formerly University of Texas-Pan American).

The commissioners agreed to hire consultant Kevin Nolting to help with the 1115 Waiver Anchor duties for the Region 5 project.

Also Friday, District Attorney Rene Guerra addressed commissioners about collection of old traffic fines and asked for an amnesty period for people to pay the fines. He wanted to implement a 60-day Justice of the Peace Amnesty Program, where people with delinquent fines could negotiate with their local justices of the peace to reduce fines. People who come in of their own will and discuss the matter with their local JP could get some of the fines waived. Others would have to be paid. The program would bring money into Hidalgo County and cost the county less in warrant fees.

When asked what would be waived, Guerra said if a person was speeding and also caught driving without a license with expired tags, they might be able to negotiate just paying the cost of the speeding ticket and having the driving without a license and expired tag fines waived.

For those who do not attempt to settle their fines in the two months allotted, the county will participate in the 2014 Texas Warrant Round Up, designed to catch the people who have not paid their fines.

Guerra said it costs $100 a day for every person brought into the county and locked in the county jail for not paying fines to be put in the county jail. By offering amnesty, it might help save costs on incarcerations as well.

Also, a number of end-of-the-year salary changes were approved. Most were for the elections clerks who are part-time employees. Budget Director Sergio Cruz said all other employees receive a base wage of $9.19 an hour, which is considered a livable wage. But the election employees were only receiving $8.47 per hour.

Cruz explained a cost of living study had been done in 2007 that determined at that time $8.47 an hour was a livable wage. In the six years that have passed, full time employees have been given five cost of living adjustments that bring the base salary up to $9.19 an hour but the election workers salaries had not been raised. The salary bump up $9.19 was a move to get the salaries to what is now considered to be a livable wage for this part of the country. The total amount needed to pay this additional money for the six-month part-time workers for the elections department is a little over $7,000, according to Cruz.

In spite of these salary increases, Cruz said there is a total savings of $28,000 because of eliminated positions.

State Rep. Armando Martinez introduced the new Texas Department of Transportation head engineer of the Pharr office, Toribio Garza, to the court. He is originally from Rio Hondo. Martinez said Garza had been instrumental in bringing funds for new roads to the Rio Grande Valley. The Pharr office of TxDOT is responsible for road projects in the lower eight counties of South Texas including Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Starr, Willacy and Zapata counties.

Under early voting locations for upcoming elections, an early voting location in La Joya was replaced with an early voting site in Peñitas at the request of Commissioner Joe Flores.

A total of $5,125,171.98 of funds for year 2013 of the Landmark case settlement will be used for repairs and maintenance on the Hidalgo County jail.

In the Colonia Access Program for Precinct No. 3, a change order for a cross section of Thompson Road was changed from bar ditch drainage to curb and gutter at an increase of $26,182. Texas Cordia Construction will do the work.

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