A.C. trash collectors angry service privatized despite council

Source: Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, May 17, 2017
 
Angry workers and residents criticized the state’s move to privatize trash collection Wednesday night during a long public-comment portion of a City Council meeting.  The meeting came two days after officials running a state takeover of the city bypassed the council to approve a three-year, $7.2 million contract to Gold Medal Environmental of New Jersey, a company in Gloucester County. … City officials say the deal will save the financially-troubled city $1.1 million this year and won’t require layoffs. Sanitation workers will fill vacant positions in the Public Works Department, city and state officials said.  The council tabled a vote to outsource the service three weeks ago after some council members said they never received a cost-savings analysis. …

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State privatizes Atlantic City trash collection without City Council
Source: Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, May 16, 2017
 
Officials running a state takeover of the city bypassed City Council on Monday to privatize the city’s trash collection.  The state authorized the city administration to award a three-year, $7.2 million contract to Gold Medal Environmental, a private company that will handle the city’s trash and recycling collection. The decision came nearly three weeks after the council pulled a vote to outsource the service.  State Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham informed Council President Marty Small of the decision in a letter dated Monday, a copy of which was obtained by The Press of Atlantic City. … The move marks the first time the state has used such power over the council. The state took over the city’s finances in November through the Municipal Stabilization & Recovery Act, which gave state officials authority to pass or repeal any council resolution. Cunningham’s letter specifically cited the state’s power to “procure services” on behalf of the city.

… City administration officials said the contract to Gold Medal will save the city $1.1 million per year without requiring layoffs. The council considered the contract to Gold Medal on April 26, but balked at outsourcing the service after some councilmen said they didn’t have enough information. Those council members, including Councilman Frank Gilliam, had said they never received an analysis comparing the contract to the cost of doing the service in-house. Gilliam said Monday that he had since received a report from city Public Works Director Paul Jerkins, but said the cost analysis didn’t have “legitimate numbers” that justify the savings claimed by the city and state. …

Atlantic City Council to consider privatizing trash collection
Source:Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, April 25, 2017

City Council will consider privatizing trash collection, awarding a contract for a bike loop and amending rules regarding rolling chairs Wednesday evening. The council is scheduled to vote on awarding Gold Environmental of New Jersey a three-year, $7.2 million contract to handle the city’s trash and recycling collection. The measure is intended to cut costs in the cash-strapped city. The city’s 2017 introduced budget listed a $393,313 savings from its Public Works Department this year. …

A unanimous House votes for oversight bill vetoed last year

Source: Mark Pazniokas, CT Mirror, May 17, 2017
 
Connecticut’s legislators acted Wednesday for the second time in two years to require independent oversight of the millions of dollars in grants, loans, tax credits and other economic incentives extended to business, often a political flashpoint as states compete to attract and keep jobs.  With support ranging from organized labor to a conservative think tank, the House of Representatives voted unanimously to approve and send to the Senate an updated version of a measure Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed last year as “unnecessary and unwarranted.” … Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, the co-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the bill requires the legislature’s Auditors of Public Accounts to examine the Department of Economic and Community Development’s entire portfolio of aid programs and report to the legislature. Their findings will be the subject of a public hearing every year. … The legislation addresses policy and political concerns of legislators. Questions over economic aid, especially when some of the recipients made headlines by subsequently laying off employees, had posed a political liability for some and, perhaps, an opportunity for others. …

Prevailing wage foes prepare new petition drive

Source: Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News, May 15, 2017
 
A pro-business group pushing to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law has drafted new petition language and is seeking advance approval from the state to begin collecting signatures.  The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the form of a petition submitted Protecting Michigan Taxpayers that would lift a 1965 law that generally requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or state-sponsored projects. … The committee raised more than $1.7 million for a similar effort two years ago but failed to advance its initiated legislation after paid circulators gathered an estimated 161,781 invalid signatures, including many duplicates.  Republican state legislative leaders want to repeal the prevailing wage law, which they argue inflates the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects. But GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has threatened to veto any legislation that reaches his desk, suggesting it could hurt his efforts to build interest in skilled trades careers. …

Justice Department moves forward in its case against ETMC, Paramedics Plus

Source: Roy Maynard, Tyler Morning Telegraph, May 12, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice continues to build its case against East Texas Medical Center and its ambulance division, Paramedics Plus, in what they say is a $20 million kickback scheme to ensure Paramedics Plus retained lucrative contracts. Most recently, Justice Department attorneys filed a list of people they expect to depose in coming months. In all, more than 100 people could be deposed as this case moves forward. The government also filed a proposed schedule, which outlines when fact discovery will take place, when expert discovery will occur, deadlines for motions and trial preparation and finally, an expected timeframe for the start of the trial – summer of 2018. … In January, the Justice Department announced it would intervene in a lawsuit against ETMC and Paramedics Plus brought by a whistleblower – former employee Stephen Dean, who was Paramedics Plus chief operating officer. According to the suit, ETMC and Paramedics Plus paid more than $20 million in kickbacks and bribes, including cash payments to Oklahoma officials. …

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You Paid For It: Pinellas Commissioners discuss ambulance kickback settlement Tuesday
Source: Mark Douglas, March 21, 2017

Former U.S Attorney Brian Albritton told Pinellas County Commissioners Tuesday that a federal lawsuit alleging ambulance fee kickbacks could have cost taxpayers as much as $1 billion if they lost in court. Commissioners agreed to settle the case involving Paramedics Plus Sunstar ambulance service for $92,700 and to forgo an estimated $500,000 in uncollected ambulance fees from patients. They will also have to pay legal fees to Albritton who the county secretly hired last year to resolve the case. Pinellas commissioners discussed the case publicly Tuesday for the first time since Eight On Your Side first broke the story of alleged kickbacks and a federal investigation of Pinellas County’s ambulance contract last month. That settlement, signed March 7 by Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch, requires the county to pay $92,700 to federal prosecutors, the Florida Attorney General and attorneys for the whistleblower–a former executive with Paramedics Plus. It also requires Pinellas County to turn over all documents and evidence gathered in the course of the county’s own internal investigation, and to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation and whistleblower action filed against Paramedics Plus in Texas.

… Since 2004, Paramedics Plus has operated as Pinellas County’s exclusive ambulance provider under the county-owned brand name Sunstar. The current county contract with Paramedics Plus amounts to about $50 million a year. In 2014, a former high-ranking executive of Paramedics Plus filed a whistleblower action in Texas that alleged an ongoing ambulance fee kickback scheme that stretched from Pinellas County to Oklahoma and California for over a decade. The scheme alleged by the whistleblower and federal prosecutors in a related legal action included so-called “profit cap” rebates that essentially funneled overcharges from Medicaid and Medicare to Pinellas County and other local governments that oversee public ambulance contracts. County leaders in Pinellas insist the “rebates” or “kickbacks’ in Pinellas totaled only $35,000 or so and ended up in county bank accounts, not someone’s pockets. In Oklahoma, the whistleblower suit alleges those kickbacks amounted to as much as $20 million. Federal prosecutors in Texas have cited specific acts of corruption in Oklahoma that include kickbacks, political payoffs and self-enrichment involving Paramedics Plus executives and government overseers in Oklahoma. … Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard says the settlement has no impact on the county’s ongoing $50 million a year contract with Paramedics Plus because the company has not been charged criminally or been found guilty of anything.

Feds Intervene in Alleged $20M Ambulance Kickback Scheme
Source: Eric Topor, Bloomberg BNA, January 27, 2017

A Texas health system paid an Oklahoma agency and its president $20 million in cash bribes in exchange for lucrative ambulance service contracts over 15 years, federal prosecutors said ( United States ex rel. Dean v. Paramedics Plus, LLC , E.D. Tex., No. 14-cv-203, complaint in intervention 1/23/17 ). The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas partially intervened Jan. 23 in a whistle-blower lawsuit, filed under court seal in 2014, accusing East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC) of paying the kickbacks to Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). Specifically, the government said ETMC concocted the kickback scheme with EMSA president and co-defendant Herbert S. Williamson, and paid the kickbacks through checks, bank wires and inflated service contracts, mostly through ETMC’s ambulance service company, Paramedics Plus LLC. The government said it paid the defendants over $70 million in Medicare reimbursements and over $38 million in Medicaid reimbursements just from 2009 through 2013, and it was seeking treble damages on all payments tainted by the kickback scheme, plus monetary penalties for each individual false claim submitted. The FCA authorizes monetary fines of up to $11,000 for each false claim submission. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on whether criminal charges against Williamson would be coming in the future. … The complaint describes how Paramedics Plus, which contracted with the EMSA to provide ambulance services within the EMSA’s jurisdiction, was forced to “cut corners” due to the amount of its revenue that went to paying kickbacks. Paramedics Plus “avoided training and personnel expenses” to make sure enough money was available to pay kickbacks to the EMSA and Williamson, according to prosecutors. The complaint alleges Paramedics Plus executives were forced to forgo paying drivers and paramedics retention bonuses to stem high paramedic turnover because the company “would not have enough excess profits to make [Williamson] whole.”

GAO: DOE Needs to Implement Invoice Review Policies, Data Analytics to Manage Fraud Risks

Source: Jane Edwards, Executive Gov, May 3, 2017

The Government Accountability Office has recommended that the Energy Department adopt data analytics tools and develop invoice review procedures and policies in order to manage improper payments and fraud risks associated with contracts. GAO said in a report released Monday that DOE should also require contractors to keep detailed cost information that can be correlated with the amounts billed to the department. GAO made the recommendations after it found that DOE lacks invoice review policies and processes at five of six locations that have oversight on invoice assessments and discovered time restrictions that appear to affect the effectiveness of such reviews. …

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U.S. settles with contractor for $4.6 million after alleged False Claims Act violations

Source: Mark Iandolo, Legal Newsline, May 4, 2017

The U.S. Department of Justice announced April 24 that Energy & Process Corporation (E&P) of Tucker, Georgia, will pay $4.6 million after allegations of violating the False Claims Act. According to the department, E&P had a contract to construct a Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear waste treatment facility. The company is purported to have knowingly failed to perform required quality assurance procedures. Additionally, it allegedly supplied defective steel reinforcing bars. … “Our complaint alleges that after actively touting its experience with nuclear construction and quality assurance work, and then being hired to perform such work in connection with an important project, E&P chose to forego the agreed to quality assurance work, and then compounded this failure by falsely certifying to the government that it had performed the quality assurance work,” said U.S. attorney John A. Horn for the Northern District of Georgia. …

State works on emergency agreement for child welfare services in Omaha area

Source: JoAnne Young, Lincoln Journal Star, May 6, 2017

Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Merv Riepe announced to state senators last week that child welfare services in the Omaha and Sarpy County area could be in jeopardy. The state withdrew its intention to award a five-year, $70 million-a-year contract to Nebraska Families Collaborative on Thursday and rejected all bids after an opposing bidder filed a challenge to the bid award. The lack of a contract could lead to a gap in services for vulnerable children and families beginning in July, Riepe said. The department is attempting to negotiate a one-year emergency contract with Nebraska Families Collaborative, and then to restart the bidding process, he said. …

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Nebraska HHS official recommends extending child welfare contract for another year
Source: Martha Stoddard, Omaha World-Herald, March 18, 2015

A top state official is recommending that Nebraska continue contracting out management of Omaha-area child welfare cases for another year. In a letter to lawmakers, Tony Green, acting children and family services director for the Department of Health and Human Services, said a contract extension would allow time to choose the best course of action for the future. Green said he would start negotiating the extension on April 1, unless the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee objects….The state’s contract with the Nebraska Families Collaborative, an Omaha-based nonprofit, expires June 30. It was originally signed in 2009 and has been extended once already for one year. The contract this year is worth up to $59.5 million….

Nebraska privatization of child welfare hasn’t produced ‘any measurable benefit,’ new study finds
Source: Martha Stoddard, Omaha.com, February 6, 2015

Nebraska’s five-year experiment with privatizing child welfare has not produced “any measurable benefit” for the state, according to a study report released Thursday. The study compared results achieved by state child welfare workers and by the Nebraska Families Collaborative, the private agency that manages child welfare cases in the Omaha area. It found no cost savings and no significant difference — either positive or negative — in outcomes for children and families….. They offered three options — staying the course with the private contractor, returning all case management responsibilities to the state or revamping the roles of the state and the collaborative to achieve real reform. ….

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JSU Police canceling Calhoun County 911 dispatch service management

Source: Patrick McCreless, The Anniston Star, May 5, 2017

Jacksonville State University police are set to return to in-house dispatch services in July, less than a year after outsourcing those duties in the expectation of improved efficiency. JSU officials now say contracting out the emergency and non-emergency medical calls hasn’t made the dispatch service more efficient. The JSU police will instead use a combination of professional dispatchers and student workers to handle all emergency and non-emergency calls moving forward. JSU police Chief Shawn Giddy sent a letter to Calhoun County 911 Monday stating his department no longer wanted the organization to manage its dispatch services. …

3-year, no-bid extension for Alameda County’s ambulance contract, despite firefighter criticism

Source: Matthias Gafni, Bay Area News Group, May 10, 2017

Alameda County supervisors extended their ambulance contract with Paramedics Plus by three years despite fierce criticism by firefighters complaining the process wasn’t open for competitive bids and changes in service delivery were not included. … The agreement will lessen fines for failures to hit response times, saving the company about $3.5 million, along with other givebacks from the county, such as reimbursements for some 5150 (mentally unstable) transports and a continued break from paying support fees totaling about $5.5. million annually. The company has said it is bleeding money during its contract and needed the breaks, especially from the “draconian” fine system. Firefighters have complained that the extension should not have been awarded without a proper open bidding process. They believe ambulance service has suffered, and a change to the delivery system, similar to the Contra Costa County model pairing firefighters with private ambulance companies, is preferable. The vote came days after a judge dropped Alameda County from a federal lawsuit alleging it accepted illegal kickbacks from Paramedics Plus. The county was dropped from the suit because it agreed in April to pay $50,000 to the feds and $21,000 in attorney fees for accepting payments from the ambulance company. The company claims the agreement was legal. …

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Opinion: Contra Costa ambulance deal slightly helps response time, but has taxpayer risk
Source: Daniel Borenstein, Contra Costa Times, November 2015

The private-public partnership, apparently the first in California, is probably the best option available because it should slightly speed response time and reduce service duplication, and might enable the county to tap some federal dollars that would otherwise be lost. … But Contra Costans should realize that the plan carries downside financial risk and, contrary to some suggestions, probably won’t provide significant upside benefits for the beleaguered Contra Costa Fire Protection District for years, if at all. … An outside consultant, using current collection rates, estimates that the fire district will collect $39 million the first year and pay out, primarily to AMR, $37 million, netting a $2 million profit. But there are two major caveats. First, the consultant, former Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Chief Stewart Gary, warns in his analysis that declining numbers of patients with insurance to fully cover ambulance bills makes projections difficult and presents “one of the largest risks.” Second, the new venture will need about $9 million of seed money to cover early operations before bill payments start coming in. That advance will come from the fire district’s reserves and must be repaid.

Supes approve new cost-saving ConFire/AMR pact
Source: Martinez News-Gazette, July 26, 2015

In a search to further savings in a cash-strapped district, Contra Costa Fire has proposed a new partnership with its longtime ambulance provider, American Medical Response. ConFire will take over responsibility for billing and collecting insurance reimbursements as well as the liability if anticipated revenue doesn’t materialize. AMR will essentially function as a subcontractor providing ambulances and paramedics for a set fee. The new approach comes with added risks for taxpayers, but CityGate said that declining insurance reimbursements threaten all public agencies responsible for providing ambulance services. If private providers can’t turn a profit, they said, taxpayers could be asked to keep them afloat. Alameda County’s ambulance provider, Paramedics Plus, recently asked for an injection of $5 million of public funds to cover some of its losses. Contra Costa supervisors said they were still on board with ConFire’s plan and directed the county to proceed with negotiating a five-year contract that would take effect next year.

Amherst TM takes action on elementary schools

Source: Scott Merzbach, Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 4, 2017

Town Meeting unanimously agreed to $15.5 million as the town’s share of a $31.3 million budget for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools and $22.5 million budget for the elementary schools. … The budgets also include money to bring the food service program back in-house, which Hazzard said will mean better tasting, less processed, more organic and locally sourced foods. …