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National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

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ALABAMA

A federal bankruptcy judge has denied the city of Birmingham’s request to block JEFFERSON COUNTY from closing the emergency room of its money-losing public hospital. The county filed a $4.23 billion bankruptcy nearly a year ago, and says it can no longer afford to cover the 319-bed county hospital’s losses of $10 million a year.

The county proposes to replace Cooper Green Mercy Hospital’s emergency department with an urgent care facility and provide indigent care through outpatient clinics, Reuters reported. Patients needing in-patient care could be sent to other hospitals, which the county would reimburse.

 

CALIFORNIA

Hoping to curb waistline expansion, LOS ANGELES COUNTY launched a new public health campaign aimed at helping residents control their portion sizes.

“Choose Less, Weigh Less” aims to raise awareness about recommended calorie limits and to get residents to consume fewer calories. The campaign will educate residents about how they can take small steps to make significant changes in their health.

According to new data, nearly 24 percent of county residents were obese in 2011, a 74 increase since 1997.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said lost productivity and health care expenditures were costing the county $6 billion annually, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The campaign will include advertisements on buses, billboards, television, radio and social media. The county also plans to work with restaurants to get them to offer smaller portions. In addition, public health officials are researching other options such as taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages or bans on certain larger-sized drinks.

 

FLORIDA

PALM BEACH COUNTY stores could soon be banned from selling herbal incense, synthetic marijuana and bath salts used by some people to get high.

The commissioners approved a plan to ban the sale or display of the synthetic substances, saying that state laws have not been able to keep them off of store shelves and out of the hands of young people. The substances are sold at many gas stations and convenience stores. Law enforcement officials say side effects can include hallucinations that last for days.

State lawmakers passed laws the past two years banning bath salts, but local officials say manufacturers have continued to find ways to keep the items on the shelves, by changing ingredients or marking the packages with a warning that they are not intended for human consumption.

Store owners, managers and agents that violate the ban will face a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

 

ILLINOIS

COOK COUNTY Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s $2.95 billion budget proposal includes a $25 tax on each firearm and a nickel for every bullet sold by the county’s 40 federally-licensed gun dealers.

Law enforcement officials would be exempt. Preckwinkle told the Chicago Tribune the county would use the money to help pay for medical care for gunshot victims, to reduce the number of weapons on the street and address a serious shortfall in next year’s budget —  roughly $100 million.

The proposal also includes a new 1.25 percent tax on merchandise worth more than $2,500 purchased outside Cook that’s brought into the county, a $800 tax on every slot and video poker machine in the county, and a cigarette tax increase of a dollar per pack.

 

KANSAS

The SEDGWICK COUNTY Zoo is encouraging donations of unwanted tropical and perennial plants.

Each year, the zoo uses donated plants in several locations across its property to enhance the experiences of animals and visitors. Plants are often placed in the jungle, the Downing Gorilla Forest and the Koch Orangutan and Chimpanzee Habitat.

Large ficus and hibiscus trees are used in the zoo’s holding barn for perching birds. Others are divided and grown to multiply into more plants, the Wichita Eagle reported.

 

MARYLAND

Owners of pet cemeteries in BALTIMORE COUNTY will have to notify customers of plans to sell or lease their graveyards for development under legislation passed by the County Council.

It requires pet cemetery owners to publish a notice in a general-circulation newspaper of plans to develop a cemetery for any other purpose, and give written notice to every plot owner, the Baltimore Sun reported.

If the owner of a plot comes forward within 90 days, the cemetery owner must reimburse the customer for the cost of reburial or, if the plot hasn’t been used yet, the cost of the plot.

 

MINNESOTA

With the state looking at a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, the ST. LOUIS COUNTY Board of Commissioners acted first, voting to oppose the amendment.

It was the first county in the state to go on record with its opposition. So far, 13 city councils have done so, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Supporters of the resolution said the amendment is discriminatory and deprives people of individual freedoms. Opponents argued it was inappropriate to take a stand on an issue over which the board has no authority. 

 

NEW MEXICO

SANTA FE COUNTY Commissioner Liz Stefanics (l) and others watch as a newly opened section of the Santa Fe Rail Trail receives its first official visitors, (l–r) Kensie Baker and Michelle Morath. The 1.7-mile segment cost $771,281 and runs along the Santa Fe Southern Railway between the Santa Fe Depot and Lamy, N.M. The county will construct five more segments as funding becomes available.

NEW YORK

Following up on his pledge to “reinvent” the county-owned Playland amusement park for the 21st century, WESTCHESTER COUNTY Executive Robert P. Astorino has announced a “civic-commercial” partnership that would broaden the park’s appeal, strengthen its financial position and preserve its family-friendly atmosphere.

He called the attraction “one of the most beautiful pieces of property anywhere, whose amusement park has become an untenable drain on county taxpayers.”

The historic amusement park will remain. Sustainable Playland has committed to making an initial investment of $34 million in capital improvements to the existing park and adding new elements.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

ALAMANCE COUNTY is assessing its options for developing a historic preservation plan that would identify and preserve structures and archaeological sites, according to the Times-News.

Over the next few months, the county’s planning department will determine if grants are available to develop the plan. County Planner Jessica Hill told the County Board of Commissioners the plan could be funded in-house, through grants or using a hybrid approach. The county currently doesn’t have a historic preservation plan.

 

OHIO

● Now that developers in Nashville have abandoned plans for a Medical Trade Center, CUYAHOGA COUNTY has won the race to build the nation’s first “medical mart.”

The public-private project, which received $465-million in taxpayer financing, includes a 1-million-square-foot convention center, The Plain Dealer reported. It is scheduled to open in July. The medical mart is designed to bring doctors and hospital administrators to Cleveland, to see new medical technology and take continuing education classes.

“I think we’re sending a clear message to the industry that Cleveland is now going to be a player on the scale they didn’t anticipate,” Cuyahoga County Councilman Mike Gallagher said.

● FRANKLIN COUNTY has been awarded $3 million from the state’s Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund to transform a former garbage landfill into new space for retail, office and residential development.

County commissioners recently approved a partnership with the city of Columbus and Wagenbrenner Development to begin the $6.4 million clean-up of the site; the city and the developer are covering the rest of the costs.

Plans call for 200 new residential units and more than 265,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. The phased redevelopment of the site is expected to leverage $18 million in private investment.

 

UTAH

KANE COUNTY is “completely against” a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to designate 2,200 acres as “critical habitat” for the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle, according to Commissioner Dirk Clayson.

“It will absolutely affect tourism recreation in our area,” he said. “For Kane County, that’s a pretty big issue,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

A spokesman for FWS in Utah said labeling the beetle a “threatened” species won’t preclude development or other man-made uses. However, it does mean that any proposed use would have to be evaluated for its impact on the protected species.

Clayson said county officials question the FWS data that indicate the tiger beetle’s numbers are dwindling.

 

WASHINGTON

The ashes of 85 people will finally receive a “respectful” burial in YAKIMA COUNTY; their remains — five urns to a box — had been stored at the county coroner’s office, some for nearly 20 years. The decedents had no money for burial, and no one came forward to claim their remains, TheYakima Herald-Republic reported. In Yakima County, indigent deaths make up fewer than 10 out of about 1,700 annually.

Before 1994, the state’s health and social services department paid for funeral home services, and provided caskets and cemetery plots. But the program was a casualty of budget cuts.​