Explanation Given on Process to Uncap Tax Rate
By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Hospital District (HCHD) met on Tuesday, Aug. 22 to decide on which direction the district was going to move regarding the HCHD tax rate.
“They will be publishing our intent in the newspaper and we will have a special called meeting on Sept. 5, to actually vote on the tax rate,” HCHD Board President Deborah Blackwell said.
She said the current tax rate was $0.15 per $100 of property valuation which yielded revenue of $1.615 million. Based on 2017 property appraisals, Blackwell said the board would see tax revenues of $1.604 million.
“At this time, I would like the board to discuss what the intent of tax rate will be. I would suggest we keep the rate at 15 cents,” the HCHD president said.
Other than board member Tommy Driskell who indicated he was in favor of keeping the tax rate at the current level, there was no additional discussion.
With no further deliberations, Blackwell said the board’s intent was to keep the tax rate at 15 cents.
Before Blackwell continued, Board Secretary Barbara Crowson requested Blackwell to inform the audience where the HCHD ranked in a statewide comparison to other hospital district tax rates.
“We are ranked 93rd out of 134. That means there are 92 hospital districts that have a higher tax rate than us and some 41 who have a lower tax rate. For those who did not attend the meeting last night (Aug. 21), we had a hearing to call the election on Nov. 7 to uncap our tax rate,” Blackwell said.
She explained this would allow the board to raise taxes it was needed.
“We will be subject to a rollback (election) if we go over eight percent,” Blackwell said.
She elaborated and said when the HCHD was first created, voters capped the tax rate at 15 cents.
“That was back in the mid-80s,” Blackwell indicated. “We have been able to operate the hospital with that much money over the period of years. At this point, we know that 15 cents will not support a full-blown hospital.”
She said the board had held several discussions with hospital providers and said the HCHD board wanted to give itself the option “… if we determine it is financially feasible to something above 15 cents. The statutory maximum is 75 cents. That does not mean – and I want to make it very clear – we will not be raising the tax rate to 75 cents. The mean tax rate of district’s that have a hospital is in the range of 30 cents.”
Because of the current 15 cent cap, the board is unable to consider raising taxes, Blackwell explained. The November election will determine if the HCHD board can consider raising the tax rate, but as of now, no tax hikes have been put forward and will not be considered until after the results of the election.
Prior to the tax rate discussion, Blackwell provided those in attendance with an update on the CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Francis clinic and the hospital.
“As you may know, the clinic opened last week. They started seeing patients on Tuesday. CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Francis gave us an update and they said they saw 81 patients last week and have well over 100 booked for this week. They were excited and everything seems to be going well. We are keeping hope alive,” Blackwell said.
“As far as the hospital,” she continued, “We are working with Trinity Mother Francis in doing a feasibility and financial study on the possibility of re-opening the emergency room and hopefully – eventually – the hospital. We are not ready to make any type of commitment at this point and we don’t know if they are. We are talking to other people as well.”
Following the update, an interlocal agreement was formalized with EMS provider Lifeguard. Last year, Houston County and the HCHD agreed to have the HCHD take over payment to the EMS provider, however, no formal agreement was signed.
The Tuesday night agenda item was a formality of signing the interlocal agreement both parties had verbally agreed to. The HCHD will now assume the entire $245,000 annual subsidy.
“Our ambulance service has been magnanimous,” Crowson commented after the interlocal agreement was signed.
“When they realized what was going on and the hospital closed, they added one or two trucks (ambulances) because they realized they would be transporting people longer distances. An average trip that was 20 minutes now turned into 40 minutes. They have come through magnificently,” she added.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.