Oh, the suspense ...
Red Willow County commissioners directed County Attorney Paul Wood following a closed session Monday morning to negotiate the purchase of "a certain property," but Commission Chairman Earl McNutt added, with a sheepish grin, "No, we're not going to disclose what property ... not at this time."
Commissioners are leery of letting it be known what property they may be wanting the county to purchase because, in the past, when it was evident the county was interested, the owner of a property negotiated a better deal at a higher price and the county was sitting high-and-dry without the property.
Commissioners and Wood discussed the possible purchase in a 15-20 minute closed session during the commissioners' regular weekly meeting.
Commissioners decided, on a 2-1 split vote, to deny county medical assistance to Anna Perry Hutchinson on the grounds that her income exceeds program income guidelines. Following a public hearing at commissioners' Sept. 21 meeting, commissioners were told by County Attorney Paul Wood to base their decision -- "whether she qualifies or does not qualify" -- on the evidence presented, that her income is greater than income guidelines allow.
Commissioner Leigh Hoyt voted against Steve Downer's motion to deny benefits. "I just can't do it," Hoyt said. "I just can't deny her application."
Hutchinson is asking the county to pay for dental surgery and dentures. She has voluntarily cut her hours of work from 40 to 20 to continue to qualify for food stamps, which she said she may lose if she works more hours.
Hoyt wants Red Willow County to update its income guidelines to fall more into line with federal poverty guidelines, asking Wood if they could approve Hutchinson's application now and then change the guidelines.
Wood asked, "You want to approve her application on guidelines approved in the future?" He advised commissioners to research and study updates in income guidelines before approving any changes and approving or denying a possible reapplication by Hutchinson. Using guidelines not in effect "would open the doors to real troubles," Wood said.
Hoyt agreed that the guidelines could be reset and then Hutchinson could reapply, "but I don't want her to have to wait."
Commissioner Steve Downer said by statute, income guidelines may be reviewed and, if necessary, reset biannually. The guidelines used to determine qualification for the county's assistance programs were set in 1986.
Wood agreed that the income guidelines changes should be researched, but urged commissioners "to study it first ... do everything correctly."
Wood agreed to research the procedure necessary to review and to change income guidelines. Barb Hinz, of Nebraska Health and Human Services, whose McCook office administers the county's assistance programs, said she would provide income guidelines used by neighboring counties.
Hoyt asked that the issue be put on the agenda for the Oct. 5 meeting, "and if our ducks are in a row, vote on it."
Hoyt said he was having a hard time denying Hutchinson's claim. "What if it was my daughter sitting here?" he said. " ... maybe I'm wrong. We could be opening the flood gates" allowing other appeals of denials of benefits based on current income guidelines.
Wood said changing income guidelines may be as simple as an agenda item, a motion and a vote, but Commission Chairman Earl McNutt urged caution. "It may take some time to determine what's right for us," he said.
Downer's motion to deny benefits for Hutchinson -- based on evidence provided at the public hearing, he said -- included asking her to reapply if a change in income guidelines comes about. McNutt said, "No matter what people's personal feelings are, we still have to go by the guidelines in effect."
Hoyt cast the lone dissenting vote, telling Hutchinson, "Give us a chance to look at different income guidelines. I just can't believe -- with us using statistics from 1986 -- that there won't be some difference."
He continued, "My hope is that our guidelines will be high enough for you to qualify."
Hinz reiterated to commissioners that qualification on income is the first step, that Hutchinson will still need a determination from a medical professional that her condition is "life-threatening" and that estimates of the cost of all procedures will need to be presented before benefits can be finally approved.