County to seek state review of evaluation costs
by By JOYANNA WEBER Banner Staff Writer
Feb 07, 2013 | 832 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Solutions to the growing issue of funding mental evaluations for those charged with misdemeanor offenses were discussed by the Bradley County finance committee during a meeting Wednesday.

The finance committee has requested a resolution be drafted asking state legislators to review the costly issue. The Bradley County Commission will vote on moving forward with the resolution at its next voting session.

Committee chairman Ed Elkins said adding an additional court fee to cover these costs may also be a viable consideration.

The committee will also solicit support from the Tennessee County Commissioners Association.

“Would it not be smart to check with these other counties (and) their county lawyers?” Commission Chairman Louie Alford asked. “Because you know they are getting hit with the same kind of costs.”

Changes to the legislation in May 2012 limited the initial evaluation billed to the county to 30 days, according to Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg. These initial evaluations are used to determine if a person is competent enough to stand trial.

Before June 2009, these evaluations were paid by the state.

In two recent cases, the county has been billed for judicial commitments to Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for longer than 30 days. These judicial commitments follow the initial evaluation. Freiberg said the county is required to pay anything after the initial evaluation. During the meeting Wednesday, it was determined the county is legally obligated to pay what it has been billed.

The committee approved using $48,750 from the general fund balance to cover the most recent bill.

“If a judicial commitment is ordered, the 30-day cap does not apply,” Elkins said. “They can keep them down there and treat them for up to six months.”

Elkins said if Moccasin Bend determines further treatment is needed, a longer time frame can be sought.

Freiberg said public defender Richard Hughes had thought the state paid for treatment if a person was not competent to stand trial and a judicial commitment was given.

Elkins said local outpatient evaluations had been used more frequently in the past. He said these were less expensive to the county.

Also during the meeting, the committee approved budget amendments for Tri-State Exhibition Center and the Emergency Medical Service.

Tri-state initially requested $14,918 to increase an assistant’s salary and cover insurance and utilities. Mack Hess, manager of Tri-State Exhibition Center, said the facility has always had surplus in its fund balance every year. Before the amendment was approved, the facility had $85,152 in the fund balance. The facility receives funding from the hotel/motel tax.

Elkins pointed out the employee would have gotten a raise when the other employees did. He also said he would like the salary increase to take the form of a promotion and not simply a raise. The position will be converted to a salaried position instead of hourly.

“Tri-State is getting a little older and the maintenance is costing a little more,” Hess said.

He said fuel costs have also been higher than expected.

The facility also has a separate budget that comes from money raised through events and fees.

The EMS amendment designated $70,000 for vehicle repair from additional revenue from patient fees above those budgeted.